food deserts

How Two Los Angeles Entrepreneurs Are Fighting America's Food Desert Crisis

Roland Jackson opened a first-of-its-kind business in the heart of Compton. Kelli Jackson owns a transformed liquor store in Hyde Park.

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Many families in food deserts are forced to eat what is readily available, usually inexpensive and unhealthy fast food.

This helps explain why South LA has one of the highest rates of diabetes, obesity, poor physical health, and one of the lowest levels of sleep in Los Angeles.

"We normally go shopping on Sundays and it's basically like a full day activity," said Paradyse Oakley, a resident.

In the absence of policy ensuring equitable access to healthy food, community members are getting creative.

"We have the local grocery stores, but we don't have the organic grocery stores, we don't have a supply of organic fruit," Roland Jackson, founder of Planet Health Compton, said.

Jackson said fast food is the only option for a quick meal in Compton. So, he decided to open a first-of-its-kind business in the heart of Compton.

"My idea was to come up with a restaurant that I figured people would eat and enjoy, as far as vegan," he said.

His idea grew one step further with a plaza. A place for health education, beauty supplies, and fresh produce. The plaza is planned to open to the community on Aug. 1.

In the Hyde Park neighborhood, a solution to food deserts is coming in the form of liquor stores. In 2018, one analysis found there were four liquor stores for every grocery store in the area.

That’s why the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network is transforming liquor stores into healthy mini marts.

"We are the bridge between the grocery store," Kelli Jackson, owner of Hank's Mini Market, said.

Jackson's family has owned the store for more than 20 years

She said Hank's has nutrition workshops every third Saturday of the month along with nutrition workshops for kids, art workshops, block parties.

"This store helps to make healthy food normal," Nicole Steele, a customer at Hank's Mini Market, said. "It helps to make it accessible in a way that's already familiar to the community."

Fresh produce brings added cost, additional maintenance, and a shorter shelf life than highly processed pre-packaged snacks.

"We had doubled and tripled our revenue from before the transformation," Jackson said.

Seven other stores have been transformed through the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network. According to the LA Food Policy Council, they have seen an average profit increase of $1,453 for healthy food options and a 124% increase in produce revenue.

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