Turning a desert green

Without access to healthy foods, a good diet and good health are out of reach.

Urban Greens, making efforts to change the Providence food environment for almost twenty years, began as a volunteer-run buying club with the purpose of providing a small group of Providence residents access to healthy foods near wholesale rates. Founded in 2000, the co-op grew from 22 members to over 1,300 today.

With the official opening of the Urban Greens Co-op Market in June, the Co-op is fulfilling its mission to “be open to all and support the health and well-being of our customers by offering nutritious, affordable food that is sustainably sourced and culturally inclusive."

"Local food co-ops are community anchors: supporting the local food economy, creating jobs in a neighborhood, and encouraging participatory democracy."

- Philip Trevvett, vice-chair, Urban Greens Council

The Foundation’s recent impact investment in Urban Greens enabled the co-op to leverage additional funding critical to opening an 8,000-square-foot, full-scale, community-owned grocery store on Cranston Street in the West End of Providence – a federally recognized food desert.

Food desert (defined by USDA): geographic area with large proportion of households with low incomes, inadequate access to transportation, and a limited number of food retailers providing fresh produce and healthy groceries for affordable prices

Living in a food desert matters a lot when it comes to public health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Options are limited to cheaper, high-calorie, and less nutritious food in many neighborhoods. Studies confirm that residents with greater access to supermarkets or a greater abundance of healthy foods in neighborhood food stores consume more fresh produce and other healthy items. In other words, better access corresponds with healthier eating which leads to better health.

In keeping with its social justice mission, Urban Greens will work with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and other partners to offer healthy-cooking demonstrations and nutrition education programs in the store.

The $2.2-million project is expected to generate 28 part-time and full-time jobs. In addition to member and Foundation support, Urban Greens received a Rebuild Rhode Island Tax Credit, a loan from the state Commerce Corporation, and a loan from The Cooperative Fund of New England.

The co-op has the potential to positively impact community health in west and south Providence, create economic security through jobs and profit sharing, and boost the food economy by sourcing from local providers. We are proud to partner with them on this journey, and wish them much success.