Food Desert Solutions

How to score produce and groceries in river east


We know the stats by now. Three grocery stores for nearly 150,000 residents in Wards 7 and 8. Almost half the food deserts in the District are located in Ward 8. Twenty-six percent of the homes in DC that struggle to put food on the table have children that reside there.

Food insecurity is a struggle that faces hundreds of families in DC daily. It’s a problem that has plagued neighborhoods in the east for years. There have been glimpses and whispers of change happening but so far nothing has been done.

What’s the solution? Think outside of the store. There are many options for getting quality, affordable, and fresh food.

Farmers’ Markets
There’s no better place to get fresh local produce than the farmers’ markets. Eastern Market and DC Open Air Farmers Market at RFK Stadium are community staples that have been offering fresh produce for decades. Arcadia Farm, a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, sponsors eight farmers’ markets throughout Wards 7 and 8. They are open Tuesday through Saturday. Most markets in the DMV accept SNAP benefits as well as farmers’ market vouchers. Some are Metro accessible. 

Healthy Corners
Go to the corner store and get your weekly stock of fruit and veggies. DC Central Kitchen has expanded its Healthy Corners Program into additional locations in food deserts around the District. Erica Teti-Zilinskas, director of communications and marketing for DC Central Kitchen, explains that Healthy Corners has blossomed to fill gaps in and around neighborhoods. “Healthy corners started in 2011. We have grown. In 2014, we doubled the number of stores we serve from 32 to 70 corner stores. Healthy corners was developed to break the stereotype and change the opinion that healthy food may not be purchased in every neighborhood. The critics are right. If you don’t make the food available, no one will buy it. It’s really about partnering with small business owners to sell them a range of products that we offer, from cut fruit to whole produce to packaged snacks.”

Grubbs Southeast Pharmacy and Mini Mart, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, was one of the first locations to have a large produce display. On June 23, Grubbs relaunched and expanded the selection of produce through the Healthy Corners program. The event offered raffles, food tastings, and a cooking demo with ingredients sold at the mini mart. Supporting the healthy corners program puts dollars back into the community through the job training program. “We have corner store events several times a week. We have cooking demos. We also have a job training program, and the money from the corner store program is put into culinary training for jobs. We provide jobs here at DC Central Kitchen,” adds Teti-Zilinskas. 

Grocery Delivery
Imagine erasing all of those transportation, childcare, and bring-your-own-bag woes with just a few clicks on your phone. Several companies offer grocery delivery. Yes, in Wards 7 and 8.

Safeway and Peapod by Giant offer grocery delivery. They even have an app for customers to order by phone. Instacart is a delivery service that offers a wide selection from Safeway, Giant, Costco, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and even Petco. It also offers employment opportunities. Hatina Netsai Covington, Ward 8 resident and Instacart shopper, explains how the program works. “Instacart is an online platform to get groceries from various stores delivered to your home. In my zip code, 20032, they do Costco, Giant, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Petco, and CVS. You choose items from an online menu and provide your payment information. Shoppers have an app on their phones where they receive batches (orders). We are paid an hourly rate plus percentage bonuses for speed and peak shopping times. Last week I made $156 for about 10½ hours’ work. This week I made $198 for 15 hours. It’s not a terrible hustle, especially for someone like me who actually enjoys grocery shopping.”

Amazon Prime offers delivery as well. And with the recent acquisition of Whole Foods, the selection is bound to cover all the bases. Sounds a lot better than standing in long lines at the self-checkout.

Grow Your Own
Last year, the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) opened the East Capitol Urban Farm at the intersection of East Capitol Street and Southern Avenue, on the fringe of Ward 7. Raymond Coates, 58, is a returning citizen and manager of the urban farm. He loved landscaping and wanted to find a way to get more plants and gardens in his neighborhood. “I used to work in landscape. I tried to figure out how to make gardens on the sidewalk strips in my neighborhood. I started learning about food and food deserts. I learned that this organic food market offers a great opportunity for lower-income and disenfranchised people. Most people do it as a hobby at this level. We can package and distribute this ourselves.”

The garden plots are available for neighbors to plant vegetables and fruits at no cost. “This space is an attempt to regenerate the spirit of ownership within the community. What you grow, you take. It’s yours,” explains Coates.

For more information about how to gain a plot, email them at

Free Food Giveaway
Joyful Food Market is giving away free food this summer. Yes, free food. This is not fake news. On select Fridays in July and August, Joyful Food Market, a collaboration between Martha’s Table and Capital Area Food Bank, offers free groceries on the grounds of THEARC on Mississippi Avenue.

Nikki Peele, director of marketing and community engagement for THEARC, explains that they are delighted to have Joyful Food Market back again this summer. “THEARC is so happy that Joyful Food Market is returning to THEARC this summer. The five Joyful Food Markets that are scheduled at THEARC this summer will provide fresh fruits and vegetables along with pantry staples to families in Wards 7 and 8. It’s not only serving a great need – healthy eating – but also creates an opportunity for the community to come together. Joyful Food Market brings much joy to the communities we serve at THEARC, and we look forward to working with Martha’s Table on future projects.”

The market offers fresh seasonal produce as well as healthy pantry staples. Visitors can receive produce and pantry items five times this summer: July 14, July 28, Aug. 11, and Aug. 18, from 3 to 5 p.m. No pre-signup or income restrictions. Bring your own bag. Visit for location and times.

A pilot program is underway for seniors to receive free groceries delivered to their homes. The Good Food Program offers groceries or three meals per day, four days a week, to seniors who are receiving meals from the DC Office on Aging’s home delivery program. The program is beginning with 75 participants who live in areas with the highest concentration of food deserts. Contact the DC Office on Aging for more information at 202-724-5622.


Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News.