Actor Wendell Pierce says “bringing fresh food into these areas helps create economic growth.” The New Orleans native is giving back to his hometown in a big way. He has launched a chain of grocery and convenience stores named Sterling Farms in low-income neighborhoods where supermarkets don’t boldly go.
The New York Times reported that since Katrina devastated the city in August 2005, New Orleans has reclaimed its place as one of America’s prime food destinations. Many of the old standby restaurants have reopened, and new ones.
But grocery stores have not rebounded in the same way. Before the storm, there were 30 in New Orleans; today, there are 21. Most that have reopened are in wealthier neighborhoods: a Tulane University survey in 2007, the latest data available, found that nearly 60 percent of low-income residents had to travel more than three miles to reach a supermarket, though only 58 percent owned a car.
“The most important thing to me is creating a relationship with the community; creating an economic engine as an opportunity for them just to have access to a decent grocery store,” Pierce says.
Sterling Farms may be a lifesaver for the residents in the Lower 9th Ward who lack personal transportation. The 2010 census indicates a population for the Lower 9th Ward that is roughly a fifth of what it was before the 2005 storm’s levee breaches. Census figures also show the population is about 60 percent of pre-Katrina levels in the 7th Ward.
“As a wealthy nation to have its people, the very core of our strength is people,” Pierce tells CBS News. “To have them be disenfranchised when it comes to nutrition and sustenance is unacceptable.”
Pierce partnered with his childhood friend Troy Henry to build the stores.
Sterling Farms will look like most other conventional grocers, with a deli, bakery, seafood counter and as many as 40,000 items. But it also will cater to the special needs of low-income shoppers. The store will offer a free shuttle to anyone who spends $50 or more, so they need not walk or take the bus with heavy bags. Each month, the store plans a cookout (which in New Orleans usually means a crayfish boil) to raise money for the community.
“I’m an actor first, but this is a business,” Pierce says. “This is American capitalism. American industry, you know? I think there’s an opportunity to do well and do good.”