Naiper Heights Food Desert

The Napier Heights neighborhood of Macon lost easy access to healthy food when a nearby Kroger store closed in 2018. Resident Andrea Cooke says that’s a problem. 

“If you don’t have good food, then your health is impaired,” Cooke said.

The Kroger on 400 Pio Nono ave. shuttered with the grocery store chain saying that sales dropped too much to justify keeping it open. But with the closing of that store, many members of the Napier Heights community have had to struggle to get healthy food.

Lars Lonnroth

In fact, some members of the community have to take the bus to get their groceries at another Kroger. The length of that trip can take four hours — requiring a ride on two different buses, Cooke said.

But Cooke wants to bring groceries back to her neighborhood. She is trying to create a new organization, the Napier Heights Food Co-op, which hopes to be the solution to this neighborhood’s food desert problem. Plus, she hopes it has community at the forefront.

“We really want this to be something that is driven, run, and owned by the people who it will be serving,” Cook said.

A food co-op is essentially a grocery store owned by its customers — who are also known as members.

The way co-ops work is that customers pay a small fee to shop at the store or they can also volunteer to keep the co-op running. If the members are from Napier Heights, once a member they then are able to then vote on how the co-op is run, Cooke said.

That’s because the co-op is about community ownership.

“When people have community buy in, people take care of it more,” Cooke said. “If you help create something, you want to help sustain it.”

But first, the co-op needs start-up money. 

Cooke says the co-op is going to be open-air when they start off.  Right now, they have the funding to purchase a vacant lot.  But they are still working to raise $15,000 to get the market open.

And eventually, Cooke wants the co-op to be able to accept SNAP and EBT benefits.  This is because keeping it affordable is key. 

“If it isn’t affordable, then we just create another barrier,” Cooke said. “If people can’t afford the food then it doesn’t help the community.”

But Cooke hopes that they can open up shop by this fall. 

“Funding is always an issue,” Cooke said. “But we are going to make it happen because the community means so much to us.”