By Nik Bonovich
Five years after the Sacramento Hunger Commission targeted the South Sacramento neighborhoods of Avondale and Glen Elder in an effort to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables, the community’s food resources remain scarce. There is no major grocery store in the neighborhood, farmers markets are too few and far between, and community gardens have failed to catch on as a viable alternative for residents.
But neighborhood organizers have not given up. They continue to push to improve conditions in one of the Sacramento region’s poorer communities, an area plagued with problems from education to the environment and crime to nutrition.
They continue Glen Elder was one of the first neighborhoods in Sacramento that African Americans were allowed to move into more than 50 years ago. Today, the community is a diverse blend of Asians, Latinos and African Americans. In 2004, members of the Hunger Commission went to different organizations and churches in the community, talking to residents about food security.
“The process of the food assessment builds capacity in the community to make positive changes,” said Jake Salcone, who authored a report on the problem for the commission. “It’s teaches them about their community and where they should direct their energy.”
Salcone was assigned to the project as part of VISTA/Americorp program. As part of the project he had to come up with a definition for food security and what it meant in South Sacramento. He looked at the neighborhood’s access to food that is nutritious, affordable and “culturally appropriate.
“We did a few studies about how much the prices for food were in the neighborhood, distance to grocery stores, distance to farmers markets, community gardens, and a bunch of focus groups,” said Salcone. “We also looked at what was provided by school meals and it exploded to a larger topic because most children ate food from the school everyday. And school food is more difficult to affect change, because they have to follow federal and state guidelines. “
But one thing stood out, something specific that residents believed was essential.
“One of the biggest things was a grocery store, because we didn’t have a grocery store in the neighborhood or public transportation to take them to grocery stores,” said Jermaine Gill, President of the Avondale-Glen Elder Neighborhood Association. A grocery store within walking distance would provide fresh fruits, vegetables and meats available to residents from morning to night.
“There used to be a big grocery store called Elder Creek Market,” said Constance Slider, a community activist. “It opened in the 50’s I would guess. I guess it closed in the early 80’s. Ever since it left, the community has sorely needed a grocery store.”
But no large grocery store chain was interested in moving into this lot, on Elder Creek Road and Power Inn Road, even with the combined efforts of the Hunger Coalition, city officials and neighborhood activists. The Avondale and Glen Elder communities lie to the west of the lot, but to the east it is an industrial area, which does not provide a 5-mile residential radius around the site, something developers wanted.
There was talk of an independent store going in, but that plan floundered for the same reason. Without a full service grocery store within walking distance, and inadequate public transportation, a simple trip to the market can turn into an all-day adventure.
“I see the problems in the report and they continue to be there,” said Slider.
Among other things, the experience shows that community assessments and written reports don’t always produce results.
“Going into the reports, they are focused to raise awareness and develop ideas for community and policy makers,” said Alan Lange, of the Community Services Planning Council, of which the Hunger Commission is a part.
“You present a lot of ideas and concepts which might make a difference. There is always more that can be done by one single entity. Unfortunately it cannot be up to the Hunger Commission to accomplish them all.”
According to Lange, many different people and organizations need to work together, including the residents, neighborhood associations, faith based organizations, non-profits and government organizations to accomplish many of the goals. It can be very hard to pull all these people together, but once together they can establish relationships by working on a continuing basis, and they can reach past, present and future goals.
“I don’t think you get involved in this type of community service work if you need immediate results to get it taken care of,” said Salcone. “There are a lot of people working to get these things solved. Food security is a big issue in Avondale-Glen Elder and I am sure they have a litany of things they need to solved. If they can get a group to solve one of these recommendations and if they can solve one in a year, then that is a step.”
The assessment recommended an improved shuttle bus connection and a carpool system to reach a grocery store. The carpool never took off, and shuttle bus route 37 is at its closest point still more than a mile from the Bel Air market located on Fruitridge Road.
The main accomplishment of the food security effort was the installation of a community garden at Kennedy Estates, a low-income apartment complex.
“The community gardens are a really popular alternative to grocery stores,” said Bill Maynard, of the Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition. “They had talked about putting in a store, but it never really took off.”
Every year, plots are doled out to families that want to use them. There are always more plots than families, so some families get a larger area. Almost half of the residents of Avondale/Glen Elder are Asian. Many of the Southeast Asian immigrants have agricultural backgrounds and make up the majority of families in the garden.
Kennedy Estates was also given fruit trees distributed around the property as a small orchard, and in the preschool they teach nutritional education to students.
But it’s a grocery store that most people in the neighborhood feel they sorely need. A farmer’s market located at the Florin Mall once a week and community gardens do not provide the same convenience as a grocery store.
“I used to go the farmers market, but it’s far and not the most convenient and it’s on Thursdays between 9 or 10 to 12 or 1 in the afternoon,” said Slider.
A community park in Elder Creek is being remodeled and will contain a small community garden. Faye Kennedy, President of the Southeast Neighborhood Association, hopes the garden will bring people together so neighbors can meet each other.
“I think a community garden can help a community,” said Kennedy, “but this garden is relatively small so I don’t think it will take the place of a grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Slider is looking at the bigger picture.
“The fact that there is not a grocery store in the community is not an accident. There is a way we build our environment,” said Slider. “There used to be a grocery store in that community. What happened to make that grocery store shut down? Part of what happened is places like Elk Grove (are built) and resources pick up and leave and go to these other areas.”