North Columbia Looks to Cooperation to Solve Food Desert Issue

A familiar story unfolded last year in the northern part of Columbia. The Piggly Wiggly grocery chain vacated its West Beltline Boulevard location, leaving the community in a food desert. A collection of convenience and dollar stores selling unhealthy food choices to residents is all that remains.

For those with vehicles, losing a neighborhood grocery is a nuisance. But toss in a lack of access to transportation, and the loss of a grocery store can be damaging to to health and well being of families and communities.

This same story is playing out throughout the US, as for-profit grocers concentrate their stores in areas that are most profitable, leaving many without a neighborhood source of healthy food. Community leaders in Columbia are now beginning to work to re-write the story using the cooperative model.  

“The amenities people take for granted, if they’re not in your neighborhood, that can leave you feeling some kind of way,” Wanda Pearson said. “To the extent we can reverse that, neighborhoods we’re looking to serve would have the same amenities as everyone else.”

Pearson, who works at Cooperative Ministries, is one of the advocates for opening a food co-op at the site of the old store. She participated in a story in The State newspaper detailing the efforts, as well as the problem of food access in Richland County.

The issues faced by the community mirror those of northeast Greensboro, which successfully capitalized and opened a food co-op after nearly 20 years of living in a food desert. The Renaissance Community Cooperative successfully opened late last year.

The Bridge will update progress on the efforts underway in Columbia to capitalize and open their food co-op. To read the story in The State, please click here.

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