A South Memphis grocery store emerges in food desert, faces adversity

Imagine getting on and off of the MATA bus with bags full of groceries for you and your family. Now picture trying not to crack your eggs or crush your bread while making sure the cold gallon of milk doesn’t hit the passenger beside you.

South Memphis residents in the 38106 zip code are without a full service grocery store. Rhonda Rucker program manager of the South Memphis Food Market said the residents must travel out of their neighborhood to get groceries. The nearest grocery store would be Kroger on Union Avenue and Kroger on Third Street. Both are 2.3 miles away or 1.6 hours of walking in total.

This South Memphis residential area is called a food desert because of the limited access to grocery stores. According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.”

This is one problem among others that South Memphis faces. Other are low income, overpopulated schools and the majority of the area lives below the poverty line. According to the 2013 Census Bureau, the median household income in South Memphis is $25,424 compared to Memphis as a whole at $53, 046. There are also 2.7 people per household in this area with the greater Memphis area at 2.63. Lastly, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average meal every month for a family of three to four people is almost $900.

The people at The Works, a non-profit organization that’s helping to develop South Memphis, saw the problem and built The Grocer nearly a year ago.

“We built our grocery store because the people asked for it,” said The Grocer outreach manager Brittany Butler.

In efforts to make a healthier diet more accessible, the staff of The Works went to the community for suggestions on how to make the area better.

“We went to the Victor Park Neighborhood Association meeting and listened and said, ‘Ok, what can we do to revitalize and rebuild this neighborhood?’ And that’s one thing they said they wanted and we gave it to them,” Rucker said. “Now they say our prices are too high.”

The Grocer provides the essentials such as bread, milk, eggs and vegetables along with locally produced goods like jam, jellies and honey. A resident can purchase a loaf of Best Choice wheat bread for $1.43, a gallon of 2 percent milk for $2.54, a carton of a dozen Best Choice large eggs for $3.27 and a variety of Best Choice canned vegetables for 89 cents.

If a South Memphian wanted to travel to Kroger on Union, he or she could purchase Kroger wheat bread for 89 cents. A gallon of Kroger’s 2 percent milk is $3.29 and it is the cheapest among the other brands the store has to offer. The cheapest carton of a dozen large eggs would be Egg Lands Best at 3.79. Kroger’s canned vegetables were 89 cents. Let’s not forget that he or she may also have to pay for travel.

“Poor people aren’t perceived as people who bring in money. People aren’t interested in helping because those who can leave, leave. The poor stays poor.” — Elena Delavega, U of M social work professor

The total for bread, milk, eggs and vegetables at The Grocer is $8.13 without tax, and the total for Kroger is $8.86 without tax. The Grocer is more convenient and 73 cents cheaper than Kroger. On the other hand, Kroger has more variety but is further from the South Memphis area. For cheaper food options, a South Memphis resident would have to travel 6.69 miles to shop at the closest Aldi on Elvis Presley Blvd and 6.43 miles for the Walmart Supercenter that is also located on Elvis Presley Blvd.

Elena Delavega, assistant professor for the Department of Social Work, said that the people who are in need of assistance are being overlooked because they are not profitable.

“Poor people aren’t perceived as people who bring in money,” Delavega said. “People aren’t interested in helping because those who can leave, leaves. The poor stays poor.”

Delavega added no one comes to service the poor.

“They think that the people aren’t worth the time and effort,” she said. “The community needs to be integrated physically and economically. Without this integration the poor gets abandoned, which is one of the reasons why there aren’t any high quality grocery stores.”


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About the Author

Kitaen Jones
Kitaen Jones, a University of Memphis senior, runs a Memphis nonprofit organization called Clothes Minded Ones. Along with her nonprofit work, Jones writes for the The Daily Helmsman and VOICES magazine. Kitaen is involved with the U of M chapter of National Association of Black Journalists and the National Society of Leadership and Success.

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