Residents along the West Boulevard corridor have long had to drive or take public transportation outside their neighborhood to access major grocers, as successive efforts to lure a major grocery store have fallen flat.
Now residents, local nonprofit 100 Gardens and Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte are teaming up to take on the problem. They hope to found a community co-op grocery store that grows and sells food, improving nutrition and providing jobs.
“There’s just nowhere you can purchase food and produce within the West Boulevard corridor,” said Rickey Hall, president of the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition. “People access those products in the corridor through convenience stores and the dollar stores.”
He recalls the decades of efforts to lure a grocer, including the redevelopment of former housing projects such as Dalton Village.
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“It’s just never materialized,” said Hall.
A new plan called “Seeds for Change” unveiled Tuesday calls for a multiyear approach to the problem, starting with community gardens and culminating in a locally owned and operated grocery store. Habitat for Humanity neighborhood revitalization coordinator Anna Zuevskaya called it “a multidimensional, holistic vision” to address an area that’s been identified as a “food desert.”
The plan is set to unfold in several stages over five years. The Charlotte Housing Authority owns the 3.5-acre plot at the corner of West Boulevard and Clanton Road where the project will be located. It’s the first such project Habitat for Humanity has undertaken in Charlotte, and the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition will manage the effort and lead the capital campaign.
In the first phase, starting this year, the community coalition will build raised garden beds and a greenhouse on the site to grow vegetables.
The estimated cost is about $814,000, with the bulk of that going to the raised garden beds and greenhouse, as well as employing local residents to work on the project. Wells Fargo is partnering on the first phase and has committed to give $75,000 to help get the project going.
In 2017 and 2018, the group will engage more local residents, seek to involve more students in the food production, and build an aquaponics garden on the site.
Founded by Ron Morgan, Charlotte-based 100 Gardens specializes in aquaponics to feed people and encourage education. It is partnering on the West Boulevard project. Such agriculture systems grow both fish and plants, with the plants purifying the water and the fish fertilizing the plants. The estimated cost of this phase would be about $1 million.
The third phase of the plan calls for building a co-op grocery store on the site and would take another two years. The estimated cost of that project is $3.5 million. Preliminary site plans call for a 15,000-square-foot store at the corner of Clanton Road and West Boulevard. The co-op would employ local residents and sell healthy, fresh food to people in the area.
“That improves the quality of life for us all,” Hall said.