How One Rural Town Plans to Buck the Food Desert Trend

Sep 9, 2019

A Logan County town’s new grocery store may provide a model other rural food deserts can follow. 

Mount Pulaski lost its only grocery store in 2016. Since then, people have travelled 15 miles or more to purchase fresh foods.

Peoria and Mount Pulaski two of the 15 cities nationwide selected for the U.S. EPA’s Local Foods Local Places program. The initiative provides help for cities large and small to tackle food insecurity.

Tom Martin is a farmer and president of the Market on the Hill grocery co-op board in Mount Pulaski. He says they can get the store started for about $125,000.

“I guess we felt that that model works best for us because of the low overhead and the low amount of initial investment, but it also allows people to buy into the idea that they want groceries back in their community," Martin said. 

The goal is to provide fresh food to the people of southern Logan County seven days a week. 

Martin said about 80 percent of grocery stores in towns of 5,000 people or less have already closed or are projected to shutter within the next few years as dwindling rural populations take a toll on an industry that already sustains itself on narrow profit margins. 

But Martin is optimistic the Market on the Hill will buck that trend. 

“The co-op model allows ownership within the community, and that’s one thing that we thought could help encourage the success of such a facility," he said, noting that co-ops are more common in larger cities, but could work in smaller, closely-knit communities where a grocery store also serves as a social gathering place.

The Market on the Hill is hosting a Farm-to-Table Social Hour on September 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the corner of Cooke and Washington on the Mount Pulaski Square to teach people more about their effort. 

The new grocery store is expected to open next April.