On a Saturday when one county grocery store closed its doors, a group of concerned individuals from the southern part of the county met at Brown Gymnasium in Peabody to discuss strategies that could help to save another.
More than 50 people representing schools, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and more came together as Southern Marion County Healthy Partnerships to explore ways to promote healthy lifestyles, with a particular emphasis on food.
A $15,000 grant from the Sunflower Foundation, Health Eating: Rural Opportunities, paid for the facilitated meeting, including lunch created entirely from local food sources.
“We targeted eight communities only across the state,” facilitator Tina Khan said. “Your grocery store in Peabody was changing ownership, and that’s kind of a vulnerable store, and we want to make sure our rural stores don’t close.”
Flint Hills Market and Bakery in Florence closed Saturday, due in large part to losing its primary baker, prompting owner Judy Mills to chooseretirement over trying to find a suitable replacement.
“We know so many of our rural owners across the state, they’re the sole proprietor,” Zahn said. “They’re in their stores 60 and 70 hours a week. A lot of owners get to a point where they can’t do that, and it’s hard to find help in a rural community.”
The half-day planning session had a vigorous agenda.
“We had Dr. Dave Procter here, he talked about the importance of rural grocery stores to sustain a community,” Khan said. “We had a great panel conversation. We had producers, we had wellness, we had our SNAP ed coordinators, we had a variety of people speak. Now we’ve broken up into groups to look at community assets and gaps in the food system.”
Peabody-Burns High School principal Ken Parry said the variety of participants helped to paint a bigger picture of the food system in southern Marion County.
“It’s so neat that we’re getting different facets of the community together talking abut what we can do to make our home better,” he said. “We’ve got kids here, we’ve got people from school, we’ve got people from the community, we’ve got people that I’m not sure who they are, but it’s everybody working together.”
Parry said the presentations and discussions were eye-opening.
“I didn’t realize how interrelated this food process is as far as all we have going in this community,” he said. “I didn’t even realize what some of our local producers did.”
Small groups took turns reporting on strengths and weaknesses they identified, and listed a number of priorities to work on, from better communication and education to helping Peabody Market provide additional healthy food options.
Information gleaned at the meeting will be used to develop formal plans to implement suggestions. Southern Marion County Healthy Partnerships will apply for a second grant from the Sunflower Foundation that could provide up to $65,000 to implement the plan.