One of the most important terms to arise in the last two years is certainly “food desert,” which is an economically impoverished region with little or no access to healthy food. Credit Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign for coining the concept, and more importantly, for partnering with local supermarkets in helping to correct it. One of the most ambitious projects is Sterling Farms, an upcoming chain of markets owned in part by actor Wendell Pierce.
While most people recognize Pierce as Detective Bunk Moreland in HBO’s “The Wire,” it is his role in the important revitalization show, the New Orleans-based “Treme” in which reality and the big screen merge. Having grown up in New Orleans, Pierce is already the president of the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation, which is building affordable solar and geothermal energy houses. His first Sterling Farms location will open in the hard-hit Ninth Ward, a region still not recovered from Hurricane Katrina; others include Harvey, MidCity and New Orleans East.
“The recovery has to be comprehensive,” Pierce stated on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” when visiting New Orleans for a night. “Housing is one thing, but then I decided to also do food deserts… In the richest country in the industrialized world, somewhere just a mile from here kids are going to go hungry tonight, and I wanted to challenge that.”
Slated to open in Spring 2012 in the Ninth Ward, Sterling Farms—named for his business partner Troy Henry’s father, who owned a pharmacy in that neighborhood—will cost $2 million and employ between 75 and 150 people. The vision does not end with four stores; plans are being discussed regarding Florida, Tennessee and around the Gulf Coast. They are looking at regions deemed deserts by the USDA, which analyzed access to healthy food in one-kilometer grids across America in 2009.
Demand for healthy food, Pierce says, is booming in these areas, despite popular assumption, which states that McDonald’s and White Castle are what these residents crave. Having grown up with the people hit hardest from the flood, he knows something that major retailers either ignore or remain ignorant of. And thankfully he is doing something about it, monthly crawfish boils and all.