As convenient and affordable access to fresh groceries in underserved urban neighborhoods and rural towns continues to shrink, residents of those communities have experienced a rise in negative health outcomes. The Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, as a member of the Regional Fresh Food Council, is working with regional partners to turn this growing challenge into an opportunity for community economic development.
When Kroger closed two stores in Peoria in early 2018, Senator Dave Koehler organized a series of community meetings to generate constructive conversations following the closures that left many Peoria residents angry and suddenly tasked with rearranging their grocery shopping logistics and budgets. This group aimed to act as a useful resource for community members and organizations seeking solutions to the sudden reduction in grocery store access.
That group decided to research alternative grocery store models, collect and analyze data to understand the market potential of those alternatives, and to provide education and outreach to make community members and development organizations aware of any findings or recommendations that the group uncovered.
This group soon joined forces with the Regional Fresh Food Council (RFFC) — a growing regional collective of food access and food economy stakeholders in the five-county Greater Peoria region. The RFFC was established in 2015 to address regional food system development issues. Since then, the Peoria County-based RFFC group has continued to support this grocery store development effort.
The data collection and analysis portion of the effort is now fully underway. The core team that has lead this portion includes representatives from UofI Extension, City of Peoria, Greater Peoria EDC, Senator Koehler’s office, Peoria County, PCCEO, and community members. Together this team has been designing a study that can serve as a tool to support future grocery developments.
Tory Dahlhoff, Director of Communications and Outreach and Rural Development Coordinator at the Greater Peoria EDC, said he hopes that the information in the final study will be useful to the various people and organizations working on food access.
“We want to get this information in the hands of local entrepreneurs that might be interested in opening a small grocery store or co-op in their own neighborhoods,” said Dahlhoff. “I believe a more sustainable grocery store model might be one that is established and operated by members of the community that it directly serves. At the Greater Peoria EDC, we support any work that helps homegrown entrepreneurs take root and have a hands-on role in building a strong regional economy.”
Beyond local entrepreneurs, Dahlhoff said the study will also support community development organizations working to connect residents to better grocery options and Peoria’s economic developers who are working to attract grocery stores to the neighborhoods that need them most.
Looking ahead to the completion of the full study — which will include results from a community survey, a grocery store survey, and demographic and market analysis — partnerships are being explored to ensure an impactful distribution of the results.
The Greater Peoria EDC is working with the Minority Business Development Center and other partners in Peoria to find ways to make the study available and useful to local entrepreneurs. A partnership with the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs is also being explored to conduct similar studies and create plans for the region’s rural communities working on grocery store developments.
“One of the priorities of The Regional Fresh Food Council is to facilitate more data- and research-driven strategies for boosting our region’s food economy,” said Dahlhoff, who is also one of the current co-chairs of the RFFC.
“This is just one example of the many efforts the Council is helping coordinate and champion to develop a regional food system that fosters economic development and promotes equitable access to fresh, healthy, and locally produced foods.”
The community survey portion of the study is currently open and will close in early September. Over 500 responses have been collected to date. Residents of 61603, 61604, and 61605 are encouraged to take the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/resident-grocery-survey
The survey is open to the general public, and all responses are welcome. For the purpose of this specific study, results may be separated to gather the best information regarding the neighborhoods impacted most directly by the 2018 peoria-area Kroger closures.
The Regional Fresh Food Council plans to have the final study available in the Fall of 2018.
Please direct any questions or concerns to Tory Dahlhoff at the Greater Peoria EDC firstname.lastname@example.org 309-495-5975