Dietitian plans grocery for Lincoln Park's 'food desert'A room full of community health planners broke out in applause after Larry Hunt introduced himself. Hunt, 54, a registered dietitian with experience as a restaurateur, had just announced that he plans to open a grocery store in Lincoln Park.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
A room full of community health planners broke out in applause after Larry Hunt introduced himself.
Hunt, 54, a registered dietitian with experience as a restaurateur, had just announced that he plans to open a grocery store in Lincoln Park.
“I want a store that’s an outlet for nutritious foods in a community that needs it,” Hunt said later.
Hunt was part of a community health planning meeting on Thursday at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center that’s designed to come up with a strategy to battle obesity and diabetes in Duluth.
Lincoln Park long has been identified as a neighborhood with limited access to healthy food. In a 2011 study, University of Minnesota Duluth geographer Adam Pine found Lincoln Park to be a “food desert” with 10 to 15 percent of the population experiencing “significant barriers to accessing food.”
Residents who lack transportation often shop for groceries at convenience stores, where food is more expensive and there’s less selection, especially of fruits and vegetables, the study concluded.
“They go to the convenience store, to the Burger King,” said Jim Skoog, St. Louis County public health educator, during Thursday’s meeting. “That’s the kind of environment they are in.”
Many of those who attended the meeting have sought ways to create a healthier Duluth for years. That may be why Hunt’s grocery store announcement was met with spontaneous applause.
In an interview, Hunt said his store could open as early as this summer, if all goes well.
Modeled after the Fourth Street Market in the Central Hillside, it has a working name: First Street Market. But that probably won’t actually be the store’s name, he said. In fact, the location he’s looking at is at Third Street and 27th Avenue West, a vacant storefront that most recently was the home of Cake Occasions, and Mama Mia’s pizzeria before that.
Although he has expressed interest in the building, no deal has been done, Hunt added.
He would offer produce and other healthy foods and provide opportunities for classes on nutrition. But it wouldn’t be a health-food store.
“I would have to carry sodas because I also have to keep my head above water,” Hunt said. “But I would hybrid it to offer more nutritious foods.”
Although the location isn’t certain, it has to be accessible to neighborhood residents, Hunt said.
“So many people in the neighborhood don’t have transportation,” he said. “They could get to my store and then carry the food back home.”
Thursday’s session, led by specialists from the Essentia Institute of Rural Health, eventually reached a consensus that both physical activity and healthy eating were needed to combat obesity, diabetes and related chronic illnesses.
Just working out isn’t enough, said Jessica Crowley, coordinator of the Health Care Access Office at the Lake Superior Health Center, who also works in a fitness center.
“You can’t outrun a Snickers bar,” Crowley said. “You have to change what you eat.”
Obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes were identified as community health needs through a series of focus-group discussions, said Sara Hendrickson, a community health specialist with the Essentia Institute of Rural Health. A specific plan is to be laid out by May 31 and carried out over the next three years.
Two other health needs also were identified, and approaches to them will be rolled out in the next two years. Tobacco use will be taken on beginning in 2014, and excessive and binge drinking beginning in 2015.