Flint, MI—A ceremonial groundbreaking marked the start of construction for North Flint Food Market Aug. 30.

The event was the culmination of a years-long fund-seeking process by Dr. Reginald Flynn of the North Flint Reinvestment Corporation to build a market in Flint’s north side after multiple supermarkets left the area in the wake of the water crisis.

“Everything is a distance to get to,” said Flora Roberts, a member of the new market. The 88-year-old said she’s very particular about where she buys her food, and she currently drives miles away to the nearest Kroger for her organic options and even grows some produce in her own garden. 

“It means I’m going to have good, healthy food,” Roberts said of the market, adding that she looks forward to shopping closer to home.

Dr. Reginald Flynn addresses the audience at the North Flint Food Market groundbreaking ceremony on August 30, 2021. (Kate Stockrahm | Flint Beat)

The North Flint Food Market is located at 5402 N. Clio Road. Flynn said they plan to open in about eight months.

The market stands to be the only member-owned co-op in Genesee County and already has over 900 member-owners, despite not yet being open.

More than a dozen speakers representing the many entities that provided funding for the market were at the event, including Charles Stewart Mott Foundation President and CEO Ridgway White, Councilman Eric Mays, and Congressman Dan Kildee. 

The many speakers shared their praise for Dr. Flynn’s efforts to fund the project, their hope for future development in north Flint, and their desire to see people at the market beyond the groundbreaking event.

“We must support this after we cut the ribbon,” said Mayor Sheldon Neeley to a crowd of around 200 guests and members of the market. “We’ve got to make sure we patronize here.”

While the mood at the event was happy and optimistic, the need for the North Flint Food Market is brought about by serious concerns.

The area’s loss of regional and national supermarket chains over five years ago left many in the area without reliable access to fresh produce, which the Environmental Protection Agency notes can help combat effects of lead poisoning—a known outcome of the city’s water crisis.

Recent data from the USDA show that a majority of north Flint residents live over one mile from the nearest supermarket, and of those residents many also live with “low vehicle access” defined as “census tracts in which more than 100 households have no access to a vehicle and are more than 1/2 mile from the nearest supermarket.” 

In other words, north Flint residents have had limited access to fresh produce and healthy food options for years.

One North Flint Food Market member, Helen Mcghee, said she currently drives 15 miles round trip to do her grocery shopping. 

“There’s no place harder to shop in than Flint,” she said. Mcghee said she became a member because of the market’s promised offerings and the convenience. The location is only a mile and a half from her home.

Christopher Cook, a journalist and author of “Diet for a Dead Planet” has studied problems in America’s food system for years. He said there are two basic questions when it comes to considering how to approach solutions for the country’s low food access areas, like the one in north Flint.

“The foremost question is basic, easy, affordable access to healthy food, which everybody needs and everybody deserves,” Cook said. “And then the next question is what kind of food and who owns it, who controls it?”

To Cook’s first question, the North Flint Food Market moves one step toward that goal, promising a mixture of commercially and locally sourced options, Arlene Wilborn, the general manager of the market, said. While she wasn’t yet sure what local vendors would be used, she anticipates much of the produce will be coming from nearby farmers.

Wilborn said the market’s current plan is to have 80% conventional offerings and 20% organic and/or natural food offerings. She added that her 26 years working for Meijer prior to this role have set her up for success in sourcing and running operations for the North Flint Food Market.

As for who controls the food, the uniqueness of the market’s model is that members (which can include local businesses and organizations) will share the ownership. The co-op system, Dr. Flynn has said, allows people in the community to “have a voice in how the store operates.” 

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....