The USDA estimates that more than 2 million people live in rural food deserts, or low-income communities more than 10 miles from a grocery store.
Four years ago, the last grocery store in Pilot Grove, Mo., closed its doors, turning the town into a rural food desert. The town had only a convenience store from which to bu food.
That is, until 23 community investors came together to open Tyler's Market, a fully-stocked grocery store. On the market's first day open, Pilot Grove residents gathered at the store.
Laurie Beach, one of the investors that helped open the store said the whole town buzzing with excitement. "We had a lady walk in this morning and opened the door and went ‘Hallelujah! There’s a grocery store back in town!’" she said.
Pilot Grove residents have been driving to Boonville or Sedalia—which can take more than 30 minutes—just to buy food. Patsy Horst, a Pilot Grove native, said she hated to see the old store close, but she "complained about having to go to Boonville, and then went anyway."
David Procter directs the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University, a program working to fix the rural food desert problem. He said travelling to buy food is just not feasible for some people. "People who are poor, for example, often don't have access to good transportation. Also, rural areas of the country are aging. You have this elderly population that either no longer drives, or if they are driving maybe they shouldn't be driving because they're not as safe as they used to be," he said."
Not having a grocery store can cause other rural businesses to suffer in a sort of domino effect. But to have a grocery store, the community has to make a conscious effort. "There has to be a level of community support in these communities where there's no grocery store to get one back or to keep one running that's already there," he said.
And that's what happened in Pilot Grove. Residents brought balloons and flowers to the store's opening to show support for the market. Even on the first day, the store was busy. "People can’t wait to get in here and buy things. There’s been probably 50 or 60 people in here already this morning and it's only been open two hours. So, it’s wonderful to see this many people supporting the community," said Beach.