The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Community groups, MU students lack traction in solving food desert issue


For the past 10 years, Redeemer Lutheran Church has been one of the leading organizations advocating to bring a grocery store to the Avenues West neighborhood surrounding Marquette’s campus — with no success.

Katherine Wilson, communication specialist at Redeemer, sat at a conference table in the office space of the church on 20th Street and Wisconsin Avenue Monday afternoon to discuss the efforts of the community to bring a grocery store to the area.

“Frankly, I don’t know why it’s been so difficult,” Wilson said.

After studying the tabletop for a long moment she laughed softly and repeated the comment.

Redeemer approached Marquette Student Government in the spring of 2012 with its concerns about the lack of accessible grocery options in the area. Shortly after, MUSG passed legislation to encourage the university to bring a supermarket to campus.

Although Wilson was not present at Redeemer throughout the entire process, her position at the church gives her a unique perspective on a large problem for the local area. Avenues West, the neighborhood bordered by I-43 on east, 27th Street on the west, I-94 on the south and Highland Avenue on the north, is considered a “food desert” by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“I think it’s incredibly detrimental,” Wilson said. “All food deserts create a poverty in themselves because the people who live in this area only have access to low quality trash for food.”

The USDA defines a food desert as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.”

Wilson said this is difficult to accomplish for a variety of reasons. She said representatives of the Avenues West Association, Marquette and other groups working to bring a store to campus contacted all the local chain supermarkets, but they have all declined to open a location in the neighborhood.

One reason may be a concern about demand.

“Student food needs don’t count, I think, to a chain,” Wilson said. “I think that that is not really factored in because students are not considered a long term client for some reason.”

MUSG’s Business and Administration Committee, led by Off Campus Senator Thomas Schick, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, is the latest group to take up the task of bringing a supermarket to campus.

“This is something that we feel would be very beneficial for the Marquette community, and even more than that beneficial to the surrounding Avenues West community,” Schick said.

Schick said MUSG has a set of long-term goals that involve “small, positive incremental change focused around one long term goal.” They are working on several ideas that could help alleviate the problem of the food desert. Schick said MUSG is going to host more farmers markets on campus and may consider organizing bus trips to local grocery stores.

Schick admitted these programs would have serious limitations. Farmers markets are seasonal and only bring fresh food to campus for short periods of time, and the bussing idea has not been thoroughly researched. The ultimate goal would be to bring a permanent store to the neighborhood.

In the meantime, Redeemer plans on canvassing the neighborhood to show there is widespread support for an area grocery store.

Wilson said student groups like MUSG should look at what has been done by the church and other community organizations in the past as the student representatives continue to advocate for a nearby grocery store.

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