Solving Newark's food desert problem is a measure of city's revitalization | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
Follow on Twitter
on October 28, 2015

Three projects in particular—the opening of two major chain supermarkets and the physical consolidation of three different food-producing businesses under one roof—will increase access to fresh, healthful foods and provide new jobs in Newark.

 

By Marco Navarro and Donna Leuchten

Economic development is revitalizing Newark. But beyond economic benefits, development also holds the promise of improving the health and well-being of Newark residents. Three projects in particular—the opening of two major chain supermarkets and the physical consolidation of three different food-producing businesses under one roof—will increase access to fresh, healthful foods and provide new jobs in Newark.

With the help of The Reinvestment Fund's New Jersey Food Access Initiative (NJFAI), which is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the new stores complement Newark's other redevelopment activities. They will provide essential amenities for those who both live and work in the state's largest city. The new NJFAI-supported projects are great examples of how community leaders, philanthropic organizations and socially conscious investors can work together to bring positive change.

NJFAI is a financing program that boosts the supply of affordable, fresh and healthful food in underserved areas in New Jersey while spurring economic development. To support NJFAI, RWJF provided The Reinvestment Fund with a grant and a low-interest loan. NJFAI uses the capital for low-interest and flexible financing for supermarket operators who serve communities with limited supermarket access throughout New Jersey.

Currently, NJFAI is fueling the conversion of Newark's former Hahne and Company department store into a mixed-use residential and retail space. The 440,000-square-foot structure, which first opened in 1901, will soon hold 160 apartments, classrooms for Rutgers University and ground-floor retail space, anchored by a Whole Foods Market. The grocery store will carry a large volume of its own branded products to offer more affordable choices for local residents.

The Whole Foods will bring healthful options to an area the USDA has designated a food desert, and in so doing, will create 200 new jobs. Retail tenants occupying floors above the store are likely to contribute another 200 jobs.

NJFAI also supported the development of the Newark Farmers' Market, a 90,000-square-foot production and distribution center. The project brought three different food-producing businesses under one roof, allowing them to double their capacity. The consolidation added 100 new, full-time union jobs for Newark residents.

And at the end of last month, a new ShopRite opened in a mixed-use development in Newark's University Heights neighborhood. In addition to providing a full-service supermarket to 25,000 Newark residents who currently don't have access to one, the development includes 152 housing units.

Neil Greenstein, a third-generation grocer with strong commitments to the community, is owner and operator of Newark's new ShopRite. He meets regularly with neighborhood residents in order to better understand their needs and preferences. Greenstein plans to source some of his produce from the nearby Greater Newark Conservancy community garden. He is also committed to local recruitment, hiring local residents for many of the store's 300 full- and part-time union jobs.

A key innovation: The ShopRite will also make a dietician available to area employees and other customers, and approximately 700 square feet of the store is set aside for the integration of a federally qualified health center.

As in other places, these new stores will add to Newark's quality of life. They also show that, when we pool our efforts, all of us can make a difference in our communities. When we work together to improve the places we live, learn, work and play, we can make Newark a healthier—and happier—place. It's this measure, as much as any economic yardstick, which will signal the success of the city's continued revitalization.

Marco Navarro is a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Donna Leuchten is director of Healthy Food Access at The Reinvestment Fund.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment