Community Partners Work to Make Fresh Food Accessible on Milwaukee's Near West Side

Mar 9, 2017

There are many neighborhoods in Milwaukee that lack easy access to grocery stores. Near West Side Partners and Marquette University have launched The Grocery Challenge to seek solutions.

"This is a really complex problem, and I think there are a lot of structural issues that underlay food security and food issues, food deserts in the City of Milwaukee," says Chris Simenz, a clinical associate professor in Marquette’s physical therapy and exercise science program. "I think that it's really important that we also understand that this is an incredibly diverse population when we're talking about the near west side...It may be the case that one size does not fit all in this project."

Throughout the semester, students are being encouraged to form teams, meet with residents, connect with local experts and pitch their solutions. Some of the ideas will be piloted in the fall of 2017.

This initiative seeks to address the many factors that hinder people's access to fresh food in Milwaukee, such as lack of access to transportation, long bus rides and affordability. In fact, in many Milwaukee neighborhoods, 80% of residents don't drive a car, says Simenz.

"Many of my neighbors do not have cars. And many of the people in our near west side neighborhood, they have lots of miles to go on the bus system to get to grocery stores.  So I think that’s the key issue we’re looking at - making sure we’re finding a good quality grocery store that people can get to," says Mary Andres, a resident of the Martin Drive neighborhood on the west side.

While green markets already exist in the area, they do not address the year-round need for fresh food and affordable supples.

"The number of supermarkets in dense urban areas is very small compared to the surrounding population," notes Tim McCullow of the Home Gr/own Initiative. While some stores are in the works, such as Cermak on 1st Street and National Avenue and Pete's Market on Martin Luther King Drive and North Avenue, McCullow welcomes the opportunity to add to the city's efforts to increase access to healthy foods.

When it comes to the challenge itself, the proposals need to take into account grocery store size, bus access, parking and supply.  "I think that this is a process, but I think that the Grocery Challenge has created some synergy and created some added activity around this," says Simenz. "We're now having conversations with the Near West Side Partners, we're having conversations with community members that we weren't having two and three years ago - I think that's an essential first step."