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A New Kind of Cornerstore Makeover A New Kind of Cornerstore Makeover
Business

A New Kind of Cornerstore Makeover

by Twilight Greenaway

January 24, 2010

Design students in San Francisco find a new way to bring fresh produce to urban corner stores. Although they tend to sell processed food made by the world's largest companies, most corner stores are small, family-run businesses. And, when it comes to feeding their communities, many of these businesses find themselves in a serious bind. On the one hand, advocates and public health experts see their stores as pivotal to fresh food access, the key to curbing diabetes and obesity in urban areas with few other food resources. On the other hand, the processed food industry spends billions of ad dollars manufacturing a constant stream of demand for products that are anything but fresh or healthy.Shoppers with fresh and whole foods on their list tend to skip over corner stores, except in emergencies. "They provide a sort of psychological safety net," says Amy Franscechini, the artist responsible for conceiving San Francisco's Victory Gardens program (she also designed the infographics in GOOD's seventh issue). "You know if you were desperate you run down to the corner store to get some milk." But, she stresses, they can also be so much more. "They are the eyes and the ears of the neighborhood, people have their Fed Ex boxes left there. ... They're also the pharmacy and newsstand. Why don't we see them as the most amazing resource in the city?"Last fall, a group of Franceschini's students-in a class she was teaching at the University of San Francisco called Social Practice-chose to focus on a local corner store as part of a food sovereignty assignment.The students picked the Save More Market, at the edge of San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood, and got to know the owner, Sam Salfiti. Like many owners, Salfiti spent long hours in the store, and saw himself as an important part of the neighborhood. "He knew all his customers by name and there was a definite sense of community in his store," recalls student Sarah Wells.
Rather than installing a new refrigeration or shelving for produce, as is often done in corner store "conversion" efforts, the students chose to help make Save More Market a pick-up point for a local Community Supported Agriculture box. This model would allow for families in the area to commit to buying produce direct from a farm ahead of time, alleviating the pressure on Salfiti to sell fruit and vegetables one piece at a time."While he wouldn't be able to personally sell the produce," reads the blog created to document the students' process, "neighbors would have to come to his store to pick up their goods, which would potentially roll in some business."The group found a local organic farm, called Eatwell, with a CSA and set about marketing the idea to the store's regulars. Salfiti's buy-in turned out to be crucial. "Because they usually knew and trusted him, people [were] more willing to listen to what we had to say," recalls Wells.The students recruited an initial round of families and raised awareness among others. Wells left with an expanded vision about the possibilities of healthy food access. "If all the corner stores in San Francisco had a local farm they were working with, customers would be exposed to seasonal produce and start to think about all their food purchases differently," she says.Guest blogger Twilight Greenaway writes a weekly newsletter about sustainable food for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. Her writing can also be found at Culinate, Civil Eats, and Ethicurean. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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A New Kind of Cornerstore Makeover