Policy Efforts Should Support Rural Grocery Stores
by Lauren Swirbul
At the Rural Grocery Store Summit II, held June 14-15, 2010, participants discussed ways to improve policy efforts to support rural grocery stores. Participants also considered ways to improve the community's access to nutritious food. The group deliberated over what a good policy should include, what changes should be made to already existing policies, and how that change could be made.
The discussion group agreed that the government should provide a local sales tax policy for purchasing locally produced food. The policy would ensure the money stays local.
The group decided that there needs to be more education and less regulation regarding what a good policy looks like. Providing local incentives to communities will stimulate economic development and benefit the rural communities. Some existing policies were brought up in the discussion group that followed these guidelines. They included the USDA Rural Development Program, food stamps used at farmers' markets, and local stock ownership.
Several initiatives were discussed on how to change existing policies that did not support the goal of sustainability. The discussion group agreed that storeowners should be allowed to reduce waste by utilizing products whose packaging has been damaged. Another aspect to change is providing state financing through local banks for rural grocery start-ups or improvements to stores. Encouraging local involvement of business owners in policy formation would ensure that owners could voice their opinions on policies that would directly affect them.
Several priorities were discussed on how to pursue change and who would need to be apart of it. A necessary action for change would be to create a comprehensive rural development policy for the state to promote growth and sustainability of rural communities' incentives, taxes, and regulations.
Local community members, legislators, and local policy councils were mentioned as possible people who could create such a policy. Consistent regulations and incentives for all different sizes and styles of stores should be required in order for stores to be sustainable. To create this consistency, affiliated storeowners would need to have better communication between the public and legislature. Lastly, the group expressed the need for incentives to encourage purchasing local and regional food products. The group mentioned the Department of Health and Environment, Farmers Union, and the Kansas Rural Center to be leaders in creating more awareness on health issues and how it affects the economy.