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Rural Grocery Initiative

Community food council hosts panel discussion about grocery store opportunity

The South Hutchinson-Reno County Food Policy Council hosted a panel discussion Jan. 29 about options for a new grocery store in the community. Approximately 60 residents responded to the public invitation.

Sarah Key, a health educator for the Reno County Health Department and a member of the food policy council, helped to organize the event in coordination with David Procter, director of CECD.

“Hutchinson, it’s the largest town in Reno County…the county seat. We have done a lot of work around active transportation…but no one has really done anything around access to healthy foods yet,” Key said. “So I saw that the Kansas Health Foundation had a…grant for food policy councils so as I started learning more about that and figuring out what purpose they served and how they operate, I started thinking this was something South Hutchinson, which is a smaller community, could benefit from. There’s a lot of smaller communities in southwest Reno County that don’t have grocery stores and they all have to come to Hutchinson whether they have transportation or not.”

The panel included five panelists, all owners or representatives of Kansas grocery stores. Each store represented a different model of ownership or management. Panelists offered ideas for how the community could bring their own grocery store to South Hutchinson.The panel included

• Clint and Jenny Osner, owners of Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc. in Conway Springs,

• Melissa Rector, manager of Hometown Market in Kiowa, a cooperative,

• Cheryl Rickers, President of the Community Enhancement Foundation in Plains

• Elaine Riley, manager of community-owned Hometown Market in Minneola.

“Everybody was really excited about it. [There was] definitely lots of good feedback,” Key said. “From an organizational standpoint it really helped us understand more what our options were as far as getting a grocery store…We talked to the larger chain stores, Dillons, Hy-Vee, Aldis, all of those, and they’re not really interested so our next thought was to find a person that wanted to open up a grocery store but this kind of opened our eyes to different models that we could use.”

The panel discussion explored different ways grocery stores are owned and managed. According to Key, many people at the panel discussion were concerned about the time needed to bring a grocery store to the city. This discussion took the first step towards that goal, but a grocery store could be a year to three years down the road. The council identified a potential candidate for starting a store at the panel, but no definite plans are in the works yet.

The council will explore various options such as joint partnerships or community-ownership. They will also identify community leaders to help with the process, according to Key. A food policy council training event is scheduled for March 17 at the University of Kansas Medical School campus in Wichita, Kan. Those attending will learn more about food systems and how to affect the food system, as well as how it affects individuals.