December 11, 2018
A planned downtown Erie produce market seeks to alleviate a ‘food desert.’
A little more than a year ago, Faith Kindig got right to the point as we talked about produce, community need and her hunt for financial support.
I was interviewing Kindig about her use of the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com to raise money for “The Oasis Project,” a year-round, indoor produce market and small business incubator.
Kindig and her partner in the venture, local lawyer Jonathan D’Silva, had at that time raised about $5,500. They had a goal of $30,000.
Although the two had not yet secured a location, Kindig and D’Silva were persistent and visible, especially on social media.
Kindig was one of several sources I approached for a story about how changes in city zoning rules had made it easier to pursue urban agriculture projects within city limits.
I asked Kindig, an office administrator, why she was pursuing all of this.
She said that urban farming, and its edible results, can “strengthen the access to healthy foods in our city and provide hands-on educational programs.”
That spot-on answer made plenty of sense to me.
I’ve written several stories during my nearly 30-year career at the Erie Times-News about the lack of access to grocery stores in general, and fresh fruit and produce in particular, for many city of Erie residents.
So-called “food deserts,” or urban areas where it is difficult to purchase affordable or good-quality fresh food, are very real both here and across the nation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly 25 million Americans live in a food desert, defined by the federal government as an area where at least one-third of all residents live more than 1 mile from the nearest grocery store.
Further, research by nonprofits and various government agencies over the years has cited a link between food deserts and chronic obesity, diet-related diseases and other health problems in low-income urban areas.
Back in 2003, I interviewed a 73-year-old resident of Erie’s east side who could no longer drive. He purchased rye bread and other groceries at a local convenience store, often at much higher prices, in part because it was tough to get rides to grocery stores outside his neighborhood.
For the same story, a woman living on West Third Street told me she paid at least twice as much for cabbage, soda and other items at small, neighborhood stores, because she had no transportation option when it came to getting to a supermarket.
“We’re poor people around here, and we can’t afford that,” the woman said.
Kindig and D’Silva’s plan hopes to help alleviate that situation.
The nonprofit Oasis Project Farmer’s Market has found a home within 5,600 feet of former department store space at 914 State St.
The project received a $200,000 grant from the Erie Community Foundation in June. Equipment has been purchased, the space has been painted and renovated, and vendors are lined up to sell fresh fruits and vegetables, coffee, crafts and a host of other items.
There will be a cafe and a kids’ area, and the Oasis Project could also host food education classes.
By the way, the market is located within one of the seven food deserts located within city limits, according to the Erie County Department of Health. There are 12 such food deserts countywide.
Kindig knows that her passion project won’t solve the food access issue in the city of Erie.
But she is convinced that it will help.
“There’s definitely a lot of community interest. I’m getting contacted by people every day,” Kindig said to me during a Nov. 29 interview. “We’re not just doing this for us. We’re doing this for the city, because we know there’s a need.”
Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNflowers.