by Meghan Rausch
Kansas States University's Center for Engagement and Community Development has recognized that the lack of rural grocery stores is a significant and growing problem. The 2010 Rural Grocery Store Summit has highlighted the problem and has brought it to the attention of others outside of Kansas. Grocery store owners from as far as New Mexico, Minnesota, and North Dakota attended the summit.
Marci Penner is the executive director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation whose mission is to help preserve and sustain rural culture. Penner first brought the issue of closing rural grocery stores to the attention of the Center for Engagement and Community Development in 2006. Since then the Rural Grocery Initiative, after its second Rural Grocery Store Summit, has come a long way.
"That a university would focus on a rural issue such as grocery stores helped highlight the importance of this issue," said Penner, "The conference helped shape this as a national issue, not just a Kansas issue."
Rural Grocery Dialogues were held to discuss ideas for improvements in grocery stores. The discussions provided great opportunities for networking and sharing with others grocery store best practices. People were able to discuss things such as marketing, distribution, and community support.
Penner was impressed with the outcomes of these events. "The networking was off the charts and the information gleaned was significant," said Penner, "Still, the only outcome that will matter will be whether or not this focus leads to sustainability and thrivability for rural grocery stores."
The Rural Grocery Initiative continues to grow and become a bigger national issue. Penner has high hopes for the future of the initiative.
"Someday I hope we look back and see this as one of the early steps that led to innovative reform in the areas of policy, distribution, education, marketing, nutrition, and incorporation of local foods into our rural grocery store paradigm," said Penner.
Penner, like many others, was pleased with the 2010 Rural Grocery Store Summit. "CECD should be commended for taking the lead with this issue," said Penner, "They did an outstanding job in all aspects of bringing people together to further the discussion."