Dayton Gets Real: Are prices affordable at ‘food desert’ grocery stores?

DAYTON — There are now fewer food deserts in the Miami Valley after several grocery stores have opened, allowing shoppers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhoods.

In this Dayton Gets Real investigation, News Center 7′s Letitia Perry explains the delicate balance between convenience versus affordability for shoppers.

Many neighborhoods around the Miami Valley are considered food deserts, which means there are no grocery stores within three miles. People who live in food deserts often resort to shopping at stores like Dollar General.

Lisa Henry of Dayton said, “I had to walk to the Dollar General and learn how to cook dinner out of canned goods and haul them back home.”

Henry has lived in the Dayton View neighborhood for almost 40 years. She grew up here and doesn’t understand why there are no more businesses here.

“We don’t have coffee shops; we don’t have McDonald’s. They give us nothing down here,” Henry said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are 6,500 food deserts in the U.S., affecting about 10 percent of the population, which is equal to one in six Americans.

Then, came the Gem City Market, bringing a full-service grocery store to the Dayton ‘food desert.’

Johnathon Kimber, of Dayton, comes to the Gem City Market often, specifically for the food bar. “We work in construction and come here every day like clockwork for lunch and dinner,” Kimber said.

The store’s director doesn’t like the term ‘food desert’ because she said the word ‘desert” implies a natural occurrence. She calls the problem “a food apartheid,’

Morgan Muhammad said, “What has been done in the community to create these levels of poverty and deprivation has been at the hands of humans.”

In Trotwood, a new store opened in November, bringing water of sorts to another ‘food desert.’ Gordon Food Service now sells fresh fruits, meats, and dairy products on a family-sized scale.

Bianca James of Trotwood said, “Just because we now have another store, where there was none, there’s no Cubs, no Walmart, there’s nothing here for us. So, hopefully, it’s going to serve us well.”

While on different sides of town, both stores have similar issues. The stores end ‘food deserts’ but if the prices are too high to afford, is it worth it? Both stores admit that it’s a valid issue.

Eric Reeb with Gordon Food Service said, “We are working on pricing. Unfortunately, prices are market-driven, but we’re doing the best we can to get the lowest process for our customers.”

At Gem City Market, Muhammad said, “I get that all the time. A lot of times, folks come in and see one item that’s higher than what they’re used to. The brain will tell you everything is high here, but when you really break down the math, it’s not this large jump.”

Henry said even if prices are higher, it beats feeding your family using Dollar General canned goods. “When Gem City Market came here, I had the opportunity to have fresh vegetables and fresh meats for my family. And, it’s such a good vibe here, that I had to become a part of it – I had to work here.”

Tosha Pugh lives in Trotwood and now shops and works in Trotwood. She calls it a game-changer. “Now financially, I am in a better place, and if I need something, after work I just get it out of here and go right home.”

The store managers said that was always the goal. Reeb said, “We’ve been able to add 20 additional staff from the community. So not only are we having more options for the community, but we’re able to employ more of the community as well,”

Despite the higher prices, most agree that both stores are bringing refreshments to two of the once dry ‘food deserts’ in the Miami Valley. News Center 7 learned with smaller independent stores, the buying power is smaller than chain stores., which means you may not always see the same products during every shopping trip.

The brand consistency varies, which also affects prices.

Comments on this article