A medical device company is teaming up with community groups to create a grocery store in an Indianapolis neighborhood designated as a food desert.
Cook Medical, a medical device manufacturer, will build a grocery store and IMPACT Central Indiana, Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana and a number of other local organizations will provide capital and inventory for the store.
Cook Medical president Pete Yonkman said the store -- Indy Fresh Market -- will be next to a manufacturing facility being planned in the same area. The store’s soft opening is set for May 2022.
“We understand that we have a responsibility to not only make this project a success, but to create a model that can be leveraged for future investment and future neighborhoods,” Yonkman said to an audience during an announcement ceremony at the Avondale YMCA. “Because there are more food deserts out here.”
The store will be at 38th Street and Sheridan Avenue, an area where several groceries have shut down leaving nearby neighborhoods with limited access to food options.
Indy Fresh Market’s operations will be handled by two young area residents and entrepreneurs, Michael McFarland and Marckus Williams, through a rent-to-own model with the plan that they will own 100 percent of the store within a few years.
They will receive college courses at Martin University and apprentice at a local Safeway to prepare them to operate the 14,000-square-foot grocery store.
The young entrepreneurs have lived in the northeast side community and saw it change.
“There were grocery stores everywhere. There were three or four grocery stores in the neighborhood, at least, you know, and now they're zero,” McFarland said. “You know, so you have to drive at least three, four miles just to get a loaf of bread. That's crazy to me."
McFarland said that their vested interest and belonging to the community will be key factors in sustaining this grocery store and keeping its doors open for community members.
A SAVI study commissioned by Side Effects shows that 16 percent of Marion County residents live in food deserts -- defined by the USDA as areas with low access to healthy food and low income. Over a quarter of Black Hoosiers live in food deserts.
Data also shows that as of 2019, over 40 percent of Marion County lives in a pedestrian food desert, including over 60 percent of households without cars. Also 236,000 people live in transit food deserts, including 10,500 households without cars. According to Indy Fresh Market developers, this further highlights the importance of having nearby grocery stores in this northeast indianapolis neighborhood.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said this project will address a critical need for healthier and accessible food options. It will also generate jobs, employing area residents at the grocery store and the medical device manufacturing facility.
“When I think about the improvements that will be sure to come -- you talk about improving equity, you talk about improving public health, public health outcomes,” Holcomb said. “These are some of our greatest challenges. But it's going to start here. Right in this neighborhood."
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative based at WFYI covering public health.