rural food deserts
Fifteen miles on an interstate is a lot different from 15 miles in the middle of Clay or Boone county. A 10-minute drive in larger towns takes you past amenities that require a 30-minute drive out of smaller ones. In 10 minutes, ice cream softens but doesn’t melt. In 10 minutes, frozen chicken forms ice crystals but doesn’t thaw. In 30 minutes, ice cream is a swampy mess and meat gives way at the press of a finger like the flesh of a parent’s arm pulled by a hungry child anxious for lunch. When a grocer is 10 minutes away, you huff at the inconvenience of running back to the store mid-week for the much-needed green beans your spouse forgot to purchase during the weekend shopping trip. When the grocer is 30 minutes away, you do without.
In West Virginia—rural, green, growing West Virginia—more and more people are doing without. The stories fill newspapers. In 2014 Bridgeport lost its last grocery store; Kroger stores in Kanawha and Lewis counties closed; Alderson lost its last store; the Richwood Foodland closed its doors for the last time; and the Whitesville Save A Lot, the only grocery store serving the community for 15 miles, also shuttered. The trend has continued in 2015. In April St. Marys in Pleasants County lost a food store to a fire. In May Clay County’s last grocer, a Piggly Wiggly, pulled out of the area.
But growing in place of these grocers, in small towns with small populations, are innovative social enterprises dependent on big community. Bridging the gap between relatively high-end local food movements like farmers’ markets and lower-end income-based food pantries and services, these organizations are pioneering an effort to feed the state. It’s an effort that’s more about people than about profit.