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© Allison Usavage

Healthy Corner Store Project

The Healthy Corner Store Project is a program of Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work, and Play in Tompkins County. The project team works with local convenience store owners to increase access to fresh produce for our community by creating fresh produce sections in their stores.

We talked to Mary Buehler, Program Coordinator for the Healthy Corner Store Project and photographed the last Thursday market at Pete’s Grocery. Members of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Nutrition Team offered tastings of local delicata and acorn squash and samples of a healthy roasted butternut squash pasta casserole.

© Allison Usavage
What is the project?

The Healthy Corner Store Project is a way to increase healthy food access for everyone in the community, particularly low income residents who live near and only near a convenience store.

Who is it good for?

The program is good for everyone because it allows anyone to buy healthy fresh food anywhere. It’s also good for the owners of the corner stores to have us as a resource to help them develop a fresh food section in their store.


What kind of change are you trying to make?

We’re trying to make a lot of changes. First, to reduce obesity and type II diabetes. More generically, we’re trying to create food equality for everyone.  We’re trying to nudge people into making healthier choices when they’re buying food.

How did the program start here?

Cornell Cooperative Extension was awarded a grant from Creating Healthy Places to Live Work and Play. They were able to hire me to launch this project.


What impact does this have on our community?

It’s increasing healthy food access and it’s making our community more healthy and more equal. It gives people who can’t otherwise get healthy food a chance to buy it. There are some social barriers to, say, going to the Farmer’s Market or even to Greenstar, but this is bringing things that those outlets have to offer to the neighborhoods where people may feel that social barrier.

How has the community supported the project?

We’ve had amazing support from the managers of the corner stores that we’re working with in Ithaca, specifically Pete’s and Shortstop. They’re willing to let us come in and experiment and take over a section of their store because they really believe in the mission and they were enthusiastic and really excited to have us there. They want to be able to serve heatlhy food but there are so many barriers that will effect a small business like that.

Also, at least with our pop-up market and our in-store display, the most common thing I hear when I’m selling the food is “thank you” from people. They’re really really excited to have something like that in their neighborhood.


What struggles have you encountered?

We’ve come across some issues with demand and people not buying a certain kind of produce, maybe because they don’t know how to cook it or they’ve never heard of it or they don’t know what it tastes like.

What should we be celebrating?

Other communities have projects like this because they’re deemed a food desert, which is a place where it’s impossible to buy fresh food. I think we should first be celebrating that we’re not actually a food desert, but we do recognize that just because we’re not a food desert doesn’t mean that we have all of the food equality problems figured out.


© Allison Usavage
How can we participate?

Shop at our participating stores and buy fresh food from them! It’s all from our local farms. Also, if your corner store or local neighborhood store doesn’t have a fresh food section, talk to them and ask them to start carrying more fresh options.


Or, pick up some fresh produce at the participating stores, Pete’s Grocery and Shortshop.


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