By Mia Summerson
Niagara Gazette — Fresh produce is now available at a Niagara Street corner store in an effort by a local health initiative to encourage neighborhood shoppers to buy healthy foods.
That means this week there is fresh produce at the Bridgeway Market on Niagara Street and Memorial Parkway.
The effort is part of a state sponsored program in the Niagara Falls designed to help make the city healthier by creating an environment that encourages people to be more psychically active and adopt a diet rich in fresh produce.
Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play is a grant program led by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County and funded by the New York State Department of Health. Part of the grant is an experiment to see what happens if convenience stores began to carry and advertise fresh fruit and vegetables in their stores.
According to Jennifer Grier of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, many of the small corner stores in the area are afraid to carry fresh produce because if it doesn’t sell it will go bad and they will lose money.
“We want to find out if there’s a want or a need for produce in corner stores,” said Katie Barker, a community educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County. “So we’ll do this for eight weeks and every Monday we’ll bring in a basket with fresh fruit and see if people are buying it.”
On Monday morning, Bridgeway Market became the first store to take part in the initiative by allowing a basket of produce to be displayed on their front counter and by hanging a sign on the door advertising it.
“It feels good to be doing this,” said Bridgeway Market owner Saeed Alsaid. “There needs to be more people doing this. More people who want to help businesses with nothing in return.” He also added that the project encourages him, as he has always wanted to do, to add produce to the store.
Barker and her fellow community educator in the project, Natalie Cook, say they plan to record what’s being sold, how much it sells for and how much goes to waste. That way they can adjust what is being offered the next week.
Aside from the fresh produce experiment, the Creating Healthy Places grant has a few other objectives. Among them is to create more healthy and safe places for people to engage in simple physical activities like walking.
Barker and Cook say they plan to do this by trying to influence people to make changes, by trying to influence policy makers to make changes and by promoting the use and maintenance of walking paths.
“We’ve been collaborating with Greenprint Niagara,” said Cook. “They have a vacant space on Main Street along the Historic Trail that is being revamped so that it’s a safe and inviting place with pathways and gardens and stuff like that.”
Since the experiment just started, and they don’t know how it’s going to turn out, Cornell Cooperative Extension doesn’t have any certain plans for the future of the project. At this point it’s a game of wait and see.
“If this goes over well that would definitely boost the possibility of more people being interested in this (experiment),” said Cook. “We’ve spoken to 20 to 30 store owners about what they think about the project and fresh food and the demand for it and I’d say there’s a variety of opinions on how that would go.”
Barker believes that if the produce is more available to customers and right in front of them they might be more temped to grab a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar on their way through the check-out line.
“It’s a lifestyle, and people are going to eat what they want,” said Barker. “We have to encourage people to change for themselves and if they don’t want to change for themselves they aren’t going to change.”