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This Farm on Wheels Provides Local, Eco-Conscious Products at Every Income Level
By Alexandra Zissu
Audrey Berman burns some cedar in between meetings at Rolling Grocer 19 in Hudson, New York. Seated on colorful metal chairs around an office table made from a plank of wood, Berman (logistics) and her co-managers, Cece Graham (retail) and Michelle Hughes (purchasing and development), attempt to explain their sparse but thoughtfully stocked sliding-scale shop, which opened March 5, after three years in the making.
Rolling Grocer 19 isn't just a grocery store. "It's a community-based food project," said Hughes. It's also a grant-funded, income-inequality education project with a strong social mission to tackle access to wholesome food for all who live in Columbia County.
Rolling Grocer 19 / Facebook
It can be a lot to take in when shopping for staples like local lettuce, bones for broth and toilet paper. But Rolling Grocer 19 started as a mobile mart, bringing food to underserved areas of Hudson. It visited five sites weekly, including the library and subsidized housing. Its customer base was appreciative and the numbers were good, so they decided to open a store — a "consistent place where people can come," said Hughes.
Even though Hudson is the county seat, it lacks in-town supermarkets. The corner stores have no produce. To get to a supermarket, shoppers need a car or money for a cab. People with Internet access can shop online for delivery. "But if you're on electronic benefit transfer, you can't shop from home," notes Hughes.
The rural towns that surround Hudson are dotted with farms, some of which grow food. But farmers don't always have access to sell in their own communities. "And if it's organic or not conventionally grown, then cost is another factor," said Berman.
Rolling Grocer 19 / Facebook
Rolling Grocer 19 is attempting to address all of these issues. Thanks to considerable support (Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation) and partnerships (Hawthorne Valley Association and Long Table Harvest), it operates on a sliding scale. Shoppers self-select a payment tier: blue, orange or green. To do this, they must consider personal factors beyond combined household income. The process was designed to draw awareness to privilege (for example, consider a higher tier if you travel recreationally or own pets). It's an honor system. Each item in the store — a streamlined assortment of minimally processed foods — has three prices.
"Some people in the green are very with it," said Graham. "They understand what access means, while others don't." If everyone paid green, it would be a regular grocery store. "Here, green pays for a percentage of keeping the lights on and paying staff," said Hughes. "Blue and orange are basically always going to have to be subsidized with donations — that's the mission and business model."
So far, community response, new customers and sales have exceeded expectations. Nearby towns are already asking for their own shop and want the trio to consult, and they're discussing how that could work. Their model works because of their partnerships and donor base, so it might be tricky to scale.
For now, they're focused on getting a mix of people in the door. "It's only 45 percent white in Hudson, but so far the customers don't reflect that," said Berman. They're also planning educational offerings around income equality and nutrition.
Oh, and they plan on tackling fair wages, too. "Missing from the conversation about food access is living-wage jobs," said Hughes. "We are trying to create jobs here."
Berman, who is always happy to take on a worthwhile cause, added with a smile, "A higher minimum wage would be great."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Danielle Nierenberg and Katherine Walla
As the holiday season ramps up for many across the world, Food Tank is highlighting 15 children's books that will introduce young eaters, growers and innovators to the world of food and agriculture. Authors and organizations are working to show children the importance — and fun — of eating healthy, nutritious and delicious food, growing their own produce, and giving food to others in need.
By Lauren Wolahan
For the first time ever, the UN is building out a roadmap for curbing carbon pollution from agriculture. To take part in that process, a coalition of U.S. farmers traveled to the UN climate conference in Madrid, Spain this month to make the case for the role that large-scale farming operations, long criticized for their outsized emissions, can play in addressing climate change.
They're prepared from puréed acai berries — which are fruits grown in Central and South America — and served as a smoothie in a bowl or glass, topped with fruit, nuts, seeds, or granola.
By Elliott Negin
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' recent decision to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to scientists who developed rechargeable lithium-ion batteries reminded the world just how transformative they have been. Without them, we wouldn't have smartphones or electric cars. But it's their potential to store electricity generated by the sun and the wind at their peak that promises to be even more revolutionary, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and protecting the planet from the worst consequences of climate change.