University of St. Thomas Biology Department Takes New Approach to Minneapolis Healthy Corner Store Program through Brightside Distribution
1. Convenient produce for convenience stores
Because convenience stores do not sell produce in large quantities, or have the physical space to store bulk quantities, many Minneapolis corner store owners have to buy fruits and vegetables at retail cost from the grocery store and then re-sell the food at a higher price in their stores in order to be in compliance with the Minneapolis Healthy Corner Store program. Often the remaining shelf life of these items is short. Brightside Produce, developed as a collaborative effort among Adam Kay, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of St. Thomas, his students, and community partners including Community Table, provides store owners with a viable produce distribution option. Brightside regularly delivers low-cost, high-quality wholesale produce to stores, and does not require full-case orders or minimum purchases.
2. Local youth lead
This North Minneapolis-based project engages local youth to guide its strategy, while St. Thomas students provide administrative support. Participating youth are paid interns with Community Table, a non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurs who want to start farms or businesses that contribute to a local food system. Since the youth are knowledgeable about and grounded in their community, they are charged with developing relationships with the managers of corners stores and nominating sites for participation. Through this process, they also develop their entrepreneurial skills with an eye toward business models that benefit the community.
3. St. Thomas student interns orchestrate many pieces of the project
The time required to administer a collective ordering system is substantial. The Brightside project addresses this barrier through the engagement of St. Thomas students as coordinators who collect orders and organize produce distribution among participating stores. Beyond the project’s core functions, communications majors have created its marketing tools and journalism students have helped to promote it through written stories.
The experience also contributes to students’ learning; Emma Button, a biology major, serves as Brightside’s business manager. Button remarks that the “real world experience has been invaluable,” and the project has “opened [her] eyes to how complicated public health issues really are.”
4. A fully self-funding model
The Brightside project overcomes a key challenge faced by many community initiatives – it funds itself. Whatever food is left over from corner store sales is sold to St. Thomas students, faculty, and staff through a ”Buyers Club.” The proceeds from these sales go to Brightside’s youth interns. Utilization of students and the cost savings from collective purchasing allow the project to function within its means. This new distribution system has been in place for nine months and there are currently fourteen participating corner stores.
5. The system rests on mutually beneficial relationships
Last, and perhaps most importantly, Brightside Food Distribution “will not fizzle out,” Adam Kay says. “It will operate 52 weeks a year” because it improves the freshness and desirability of produce available in corner stores, gives youth an avenue to influence the affordable food choices available in their communities, helps store managers comply with the requirements of the Health Corner Store Program more cost effectively than they could alone, allows St. Thomas students to gain practical experience in community-engaged food systems work, and has a wide support net through the Buyers Club program.