Group hopes to lure grocery to Minneapolis food desert

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Three members of the Carrot Initiative outside the building they hope will house a grocery store in south Minneapolis. (Image: Jon Collins)

On Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn community, a gas station sits across the street from a corner store.

The snack options are bountiful. But there’s not much fresh produce. In fact, the neighborhood is one of just a few of the officially-recognized food deserts in south Minneapolis.

That designation spurred residents in the area to start a group called The Carrot Initiative to push for more fresh food. The group has recently taken a big step by putting a $5,000 deposit down on the old Furniture Liquidators building on Chicago Avenue and 37th Street.

“It gave us the opportunity to try to attract a grocer, and hold this space so no one else could try to come in and buy it for any other reason,” said Carrot Initiative board member Sara Luoma. “It’s a perfect grocery store space as far as the Carrot Initiative is concerned.”

The deposit gives the group the right to buy the big, yellow, empty building for 90 days. If they don’t buy it, the loan from the Bancroft Neighborhood Association will be refunded.

“When we talk to people about putting a grocery store in this neighborhood, in this space, they get pie-eyed with excitement,” Luoma said. “That’s kind of what this real estate agreement allowed us to do, was to take some time to gather some additional information from folks.”

A Minneapolis small area plan released two year ago notes that there’s been an interest in a co-op grocery in the area since at least 1994.

That doesn’t mean discussions around the group’s plans have been completely harmonious. On the Powderhorn neighborhood forum, many residents were overjoyed at the prospect of a co-op. Others questioned whether a co-op, and its sometimes pricey produce, are a good fit for the economically diverse neighborhood.

That’s the sort of discussion that The Carrot Initiative’s members want to have to flesh out what would be best for the neighborhood.

The organization’s board, which is still being recruited, will include representatives from the Powderhorn Park, Bancroft, Bryant and Central neighborhoods.

“The people that have been involved thus far, we’re not looking for financial gain from this,” said board member Eric Weiss. “I, and other people on the board, want to have more access to healthy food in the neighborhood.”