“Many rural communities across the province are not large enough to sustain full grocery stores, resulting in residents depending on convenience stores,” says Kristie Jameson of Food Security Network of NL. “NL faces a host of food security issues as a result of geographic, environmental, economic, and social obstacles.”
Among them, Jameson lists a reliance on imported produce (90 per cent), and a tenuous supply chain, which would leave the province with an estimated two-to-three day supply of fresh vegetables in the event of a crisis.
“There are currently two convenience stores in Branch,” says town councillor Mallary McGrath. “Until recently there were three, but one store owner retired.” The nearest grocery store is 66 km away. It is difficult for residents to travel to it and it is a challenge to entice distributors to come to Branch to supply the small stores – a prime example of a situation faced by many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Considering Branch’s grocery issues, it is not surprising that Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest consumption of vegetables and fruits of any province, with high rates of diet-related health challenges including diabetes and obesity.
Dr. Cathy Mah of Memorial University sees the convenience store as a potential cornerstone of healthy eating in the province, especially since Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest number of convenience stores per capita of any province or territory.
This vision has led her to start the Healthy Corner Store project – a collaboration between Memorial University’s Food Policy Lab, Eastern Health, and the Food Security Network – and why they’ve selected a convenience store in Branch as their first guinea pig.
“The Healthy Corner Stores project is a way to think about the whole food system and how it works,” says Mah. “This store in Branch is a little nexus for where we can see gaps and assets in our system.”
For Mah, the approach means thinking beyond basic nutrition education and requests to ban the less healthy options. “They’re there to run a business, they’re not a health provider,” says Mah. “But many of them want to provide a service to their community, so we need to support that.”
“There’s a number of things we can do: thinking through their business model and the community, then looking at the policy and the economic context in that region. Those things are not solely in the control of small retailers. It needs distributors, it needs municipalities, and it requires local boards of trade and community wellness councils.”
“It needs all of those people thinking together about the food environment. It’s a system change.”
More information on the wellness of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can be found in the infographic above.
• This story is part of VitalSigns, a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Newfoundland & Labrador and Memorial University’s Harris Centre. The Telegram is the project’s media sponsor. To read this year's project, click here.