South LA residents create solutions to provide healthy food options

IMG_1430July 12 was a happy day for residents of the King Estates neighborhood in South L.A. Three weeks after the Ralphs supermarket on Western Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard closed, community members of the local nonprofit, Community Coalition and Community Services Unlimited opened “Fresh Fridays” Produce Stand so that neighbors would have a place to get fresh fruits and vegetables.

The opening took place on the corner of 39th Street and Western Avenue, in the parking lot of Century Market, a liquor store that just three years ago was the target of a protest by residents for being a public nuisance. The store, which has since worked to maintain community standards and meet city ordinances, has agreed to host the produce stand every Friday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.


“My neighbors want fresh fruits and vegetables so I’m very happy that they will now be able to have this opportunity,” said Jong Soo Park, the owner of Century Market.

Isaac White, a 79-year-old man that has been living in the neighborhood since 1959, agrees with Mr. Park. “We need fresh fruits and vegetables. Considering that Ralph’s has abandoned us, this produce stand has been a lifesaver,” he said. “This market is especially good for the senior citizens in the neighborhood that are not able to travel far to get the fruits and vegetables that we need to take care of our health.”

“I love this. It`s really nice,” said Mrs. Washington, another long-time resident of the area. “I don´t know why we didn’t have this before. I think that we should have more fruits and vegetables available in the neighborhood.”

The importance of having produce markets

In 2011, only 11% of South L.A. residents over 18 years old reported having eaten five or more servings of fruit and/or vegetables in the past day. According to data provided by the Los Angeles County Service Planning Areas, these results rank South L.A. as the county’s geographic area with the lowest percentage of fruit and vegetable consumption.

infographicOn the other hand, more than 46% of adults living in South L.A. reported eating fast food at least once a week. This number is much higher than the 27.8% of West L.A. residents engaging in the same behavior. The difference in fast food consumption among children from South and West L.A. is even higher than among adults: while 3 out of 10 children in West L.A. consume fast food at least once a week, approximately 6 out of 10 will do so in South L.A.

These differences in eating habits and behavior have important health consequences. While one third of adults in South L.A. are obese, less than 10% of West L.A. residents fall under this category. With regards to children, those living in South L.A. are twice as likely to be obese than the ones in West L.A.

Although these notorious differences are caused by a number of factors, such as fewer and often inferior basic healthcare and physical resources, access to grocery stores and farmers markets is certainly an important factor that helps explain these diverse realities. Nutritious and healthy food options are scarce in South L.A. The area has a disproportionately high number of fast-food chains, liquor retail stores, and smaller convenience markets that often sell only processed non-perishable items.

Nutritious eating helps reduce the risk of chronic disease, especially diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Studies have shown that the availability of healthy foods near where we live influences what we choose to eat.IMG_1417

Research has also found that the presence of a supermarket in a neighborhood is linked to higher fruit and vegetable consumption. A study conducted by the Community Health Councils (CHC) on food retailers found that grocery stores serve 5,957 people per store in South LA compared to the 3,763 people served per store in West L.A.

Farmers markets are a great way to help fill some of the void in communities with limited healthy food options. However, only six farmers markets are available in South L.A. compared to 16 in West L.A.

Final thoughts on the opening

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, President & CEO of Community Coalition, was happy with the turnout for the opening. “The community responded the way they said they would. People came in and walked away with big grocery bags full of food so we’re very excited about that.”

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