Donna Pearson McClish, of Common Ground Producers and Growers Inc., has operated a mobile market for several years , bringing fresh produce to Wichita's food deserts. Photo courtesy of Sedgwick County Extension Office


The City of Wichita is using $1 million from federal pandemic funds to seed a program aimed at closing the gap in food deserts across the city.

The Health Corner Store Initiative will put fresh produce and other food in convenience and dollar stores in parts of the city designated as “food deserts” — areas more than a mile from a supermarket. 

A 2013 study identified 44 square miles of Wichita as food deserts. In heavily minority and lower-income communities in Northeast Wichita and Planeview, the problem was exacerbated by the closing of the Sav A Lot groceries.  The opening of those stores had been heralded as a win for both communities.  

Earlier this month, the Wichita City Council voted unanimously to use $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide infrastructure — refrigerated cases — to be used for convenience and dollar-type stores to keep and stock fresh fruits and vegetables.   

The cost of food itself is not covered by the $1 million. Neither is staff.

The city is working with New Venture Advisors, a consultant, and The Food Trust, a nonprofit group.

Council member Brandon Johnson is concerned about the longevity of the corner store program. Convenience and dollar stores could be providing produce now, he said.

“If they were going to do this work, they would be doing it. Will they continue to provide those services” after the program ends, he asked?

He also is concerned that the program won’t benefit entrepreneurs such as Common Ground Growers and Producers Inc., which has been operating a mobile market in these communities for the past few years. 

Donna Pearson McClish, CEO of Common Ground, expressed concern at a Wichita City Council meeting about the timing of the program, which city spokeswoman Megan Lovely said would be implemented by April 23, 2023.

“We’re meeting, we’re meeting, we’re meeting, we’re meeting, we’re meeting,” McClish told council members. “We’re not feeding.”

People are having to make a decision between buying gas or buying food, continued McClish. 

“I see the need every day,” she said. “How many studies, meetings and initiatives (will there be) before people in our communities are being fed properly?”

Council member Maggie Ballard also expressed concern about the timing.

“I want to get this going,” she said at the council meeting. 

Johnson said he was interested in the program benefitting growers such as McClish instead of dollar stores. Common Ground already is doing the work, he said, through its mobile market.

Deb Gruver | The Community Voice