Marathon Day

I call my outrageously long trips to the Front Range areas Marathon Days.  I absolutely hate Marathon Days, but for me they’re a necessity.

I don’t live near real stores.  The local town has a wonderful (not very super) supermarket.  For what they are (a small supermarket is a small town), they’re great, but they don’t always have everything.  What they do have is expensive.  Their selections of fresh produce and organics is limited.  For my size family, it pays to make the trip to the wholesale club for just groceries.  The same goes for the hardware store. And that’s not counting other items that plain just aren’t available here.  For example, since ALCO is closing, there is now no where within maybe 70 miles of my house to buy a pair of jeans.  I do a lot of shopping online.  Amazon Prime is a necessity for living out here.  However, there are just some items that need to be touched or seen in person and these items also mean a trip to a real store.

I don’t live near real doctors.
I have already written about the lack of obstetric options here in rural Colorado.
We also have some unique medical needs in our family.
My kids have speech problems.  The local speech help is almost non-existent. Years ago for one of the older ones, we tried the Early Intervention help.  The lady showed up only half the time.  Speech problems need consistency.
One of my children has a rare bone deformity.  One time I brought him to the orthopedic doctor that comes down from Colorado Springs monthly.  It was for a second opinion.  “I’ve never seen this in person before,” he told me.  “There’s not much in the literature about this either,” he said. Um, duh, I knew that. “I can’t help you.” Well at least he was honest.
My son Vince had a brain tumor resected last year.  He needed a pediatric neurosurgeon. There are a few in the Denver area on the same team.  Before surgery when we wanted a second opinion, we had to take him 500 miles to Kansas City. Needless to say, there ain’t no pediatric neurosurgeons or pediatric neuro-oncologists in Lincoln County.
Even the local ER isn’t a real ER. When my baby was sick last year with dehydration from the stomach bug and I brought him to the ER for an IV, they could not get his vein. Meanwhile two more hours went by where the baby got sicker. I finally walked out of the local ER and drove straight to Children’s Hospital where they got the IV the first time, admitted him to the PICU and kept him in the hospital for six days. In retrospect I believe if we had stayed he might not have made it.
There is a doctor’s office about a half hour away. They never have the same doctors twice. They are in and out of there like Grand Central Station. They’ve had a few good ones now and then, but they leave. There was one here for maybe two years that was an awesome doctor and awesome with the kids and now she’s moved to another state. Now they literally rent out doctors.  It’s like a temp agency for doctors that they hire their doctors through.  Talk about inconsistent care.
Traveling to the Front Range to see real doctors is a necessity for us.

Now that you know about the necessity of Marathon Days for us, I would like to walk you through a Marathon Day with us.  Yesterday, we had a Marathon Day.  I will share yesterday’s agenda with you as an example.

7:25 a.m.- The bus picked up Vince and took him to school.  I didn’t want the day to be a total loss or Vince to miss his class St. Valentine’s Day party.
The other children and I did our normal morning routines.  We did our morning chores. We did about half our schoolday.  They all took baths and changed into “town” clothes.
11:00 a.m.- We picked Vince up at school.  I chatted with the teacher to touch base on how he was doing.
11:15 a.m.- We left the local town and headed to suburban Denver.
1:00 p.m.- We arrived at Costco.  The children and I sat down at the Costco Cafe and ate lunch there.  We grocery shopped. We changed diapers.
2:05 p.m.- We arrive at the satellite campus of Children’s Hospital (five minutes late) for Vince’s speech therapy.  Vince normally receives his speech therapy on the computer like Skype, however, at the stage he is in, he gets more out of speech in person. Speech in person seems to hold his attention better.  I would say an in-person speech visit is worth three telespeech sessions.  This is just for the stage we’re in.  I think there is an equal benefit at other stages.
2:15 p.m.- The other four children and I leave.  We all went potty.
2:25 p.m.- We arrive at Sprouts.  The older two children and I had previously discussed an action plan on who was to grab what item so that we could be in and out. We just needed a few fresh things to get us through.

Running into Lowe's...

Running into Lowe’s…

2:38 p.m.- We arrived at Lowe’s.  It was maybe a quarter mile from Sprouts, just far away enough to make it quicker to take the car and necessitate being in and out of car seats.  We had previously discussed action plans on quick buckling ins and buckling outs.  We had an item to exchange there and one to return.  It was difficulty to find a new item for the exchange item. This delayed us, as well as painstakingly checking the replacement to make sure it did not have the same defect as the original.
3:05 p.m.- We arrived back at the satellite campus of Children’s Hospital. We were late. The speech therapist was just finishing up with Vince and we actually observed a few minutes.  She then reviewed his progress with me in person.  We all went potty.

Filomena took a picture of a lady in the waiting room and Vince played with the touch board in the background.

GirlOne took a picture of a lady in the Children’s Hospital waiting room and Vince played with the touch board in the background.

3:40 p.m.- We left the Children’s Hospital parking lot.  I really wanted to stop at IKEA but I resisted the temptation since I had just about enough time to get to the midwife on time. We headed south on I-25 and left suburban Denver for Colorado Springs.
4:34 p.m.- We arrived at the midwife (four minutes late).  I had a prenatal check.  Everyone went potty and we changed diapers. The midwife has tons of toys and they got an hour of playtime.
5:52 p.m.- We were back in the minivan, all buckled in and ready to leave. I looked at the time and realized that in spite of my best intentions, we wouldn’t make Mass.  Mass was in 8 minutes on the total opposite end of Colorado Springs. It was rush hour, too, and weekday Masses are quick. I reluctantly headed to Costco to get gas.
6:30-ish- After filling up, we stopped at Culvers and bought a chocolate milkshake.  I distributed it into separate cups so everyone could get a little bit.  This was their treat because they were so so good and cooperative for me.  I stayed in the Culver’s parking lot for a few minutes to make sandwiches.  We headed out of Colorado Springs towards home, eating our sandwich dinner on the way.
8:10 p.m.- We arrived home.  We unloaded a few things from the car.  I readied everyone for bed and didn’t get everyone in bed until nearly nine.

260 miles. We were only gone 9 hours and 15 minutes.  Usually our Marathon Days are closer to twelve hours.

Before I moved out here, I never understood the actual reality of not living near real stores or real doctors.  I never understood what nearly a two hour ride each way to a metropolitan area really meant, or what it meant with little children.  I didn’t anticipate that my children would have such unique medical needs.  I didn’t understand how limited access to quality healthcare could really be when I still live in the United States of America and not among an aboriginal tribe.  I never imagined that I could live in a farming community, yet still live in a food dessert.  I never knew what it meant to be 100 miles from everything and the circumstances that would make Marathon Days a way of life on the prairie.

Marathon Days are a way of life for us.  I’ve become more efficient at Marathon Days over the years. I am hoping that if you are perhaps considering buying a little patch of heaven way out west left of Nebraska and over a crest that you will take the reality of Marathon Days into account when planning your move.  I didn’t and I’ll add Marathon Days to the “What I Wish I Had Known” Category.

Posted in Also Known As Logistics and Management in a Large Family, Knowing What to Do to Feel a Little Bit Less Like the Woman in the Shoe, Lincoln County: A Case Study of the Sad State of Healthcare in Rural America, The Irony of a Food Desert Surrounded by Farms, What I Wish I'd Know Before Moving to My Little Patch of Heaven Way Out West by with 2 comments.

Using the Whole Cow: Spleen Vastedda Recipe

Today I made vestedda. I’m going to share to recipe here as well as three reasons vastedda is important.

If you’re new here on this blog, let me tell you that my name is really Laura and I really do live in a little house on the prairie.  I am a Jersey girl to the core and I live here because of the enticement of cheap land and the opportunity for my children to farm land that their ancestors (on my husband’s side) have farmed for generations.  I struggle all the time.  Although New Jersey, Brooklyn and the Colorado Prairie are all part of the United States of America, I sometimes doubt this.  I am also 100% Italian.  To say that there is a lack of Italian culture on the prairie is an understatement.  Most people here don’t even know how to say “Italian”. I’ll chalk it up to the dialect or the accent or something, but many people here say “Eye-talian” and it drives me nuts.  Where I grew up, it seems most families were Italian, Irish or Jewish.  We had a strong Italian culture.  I miss it.

Both of my parents are from Brooklyn.  I grew up visiting both my grandmothers in Brooklyn frequently.  Although I was born in Staten Island and that perhaps means I loose street credit, I’m a Brooklyn girl, too. I grew up with Brooklyn pizza and Joe’s. Joe’s of Avenue U is in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn. They have been in business since forever in the same location.  They sell Sicilian Italian food.  I am half Sicilian.  I miss Joe’s.  My favorite dish at Joe’s is vastedda.  Vastedda is basically a spleen sandwich.  I miss vastedda. Making vastedda, copycatting Joe’s, is a small way to alleviate my homesickness.  It’s an ethnic dish, right on the prairie.

Joe's of Avenue U is a good 1700 miles from the short grass prairie.

Joe’s of Avenue U is a good 1700 miles from the short grass prairie.

Vastedda is spleen, which means it’s offal.  We try to follow the Weston A. Price diet. A big pillar of the Weston A. Price diet is the consumption of offal. The experts can explain the whys and wherefores of the benefits of offal.  Logically it makes sense that since people have eaten offal for millennia, and we should, too.  Our bodies and biology haven’t changed.  If offal was good enough for my great-great grandmother, it should be good enough for me.

I am a cattle rancher.  I raise grass-fed, grass-finished organic beef on the beautiful prairie of Colorado.  Shouldn’t I use it all?  We eat our own meat of course.  Isn’t it most efficient to use all of the meat?  The steer, after living a happy life eating grass with constant access to pasture and sunshine, looses his life to provide us with food.  Isn’t it being a good steward to eat all the offal?  Didn’t Jesus Himself tell everyone to gather up the scraps after He fed 5000 men?  Is spleen a scrap?  A scrap that can feed my family four more meals out of a steer than we would have otherwise.  It makes economic and environmental sense to eat vastedda. Or maybe I’m just cheap.

So let me recap why everyone should eat vastedda:
1. It is a way to bring Sicilian Italian culture to your own kitchen, even if you don’t live in Gravesend in Brooklyn.
2. Vastedda is spleen which is offal.  Mankind has eaten offal through the millennia.  Weston A. Price people say this is a good thing.  It just makes good logical sense.
3.  Vastedda is a great way to make an animal stretch, especially if you buy your meat by the whole animal.  Why not turn the otherwise unused spleen into a few more meals?  It makes economic and environmental sense and doesn’t cost extra.

So now that you have a hankering for Sicilian cuisine, yummy offal and a desire to be a good environmental steward, here is the recipe for Vastedda (which I have adapted from here)…

cow spleen
tallow (which can be doubly cool if it’s from the same animal as the spleen)
yummy rolls of your choice
parmesan or other cheese, shredded
ricotta (of course homemade is best)

1. Soak thawed spleen in milk to remove the organ-y taste.  Change out the milk twice.
2. Boil the spleen for about 30 minutes.
3. Slice it thin.
4. Fry the spleen in tallow.
5. Prepare rolls by slicing in half.
6.  Place spleen ricotta and parmesan cheese on rolls and bake them in the oven until just hot.

You have copycatted Joe’s of Avenue U.  You have eaten good-for-you offal.  You have stretched your beef into a few more meals.  This is a win-win-win.


Posted in Culture Clashes of a Jersey Girl on the Colorado Prairie, Laura's Little Kitchen On the Prairie, Recipes, The Irony of a Food Desert Surrounded by Farms and tagged , , , , by with no comments yet.

Not Selling Flour

FARMERsmarketosbornesOsborne’s Supermarket in Hugo had a Farmer’s Market.

You may remember that I had spoke highly of Osborne’s Supermarket here.  To refresh your memory, Osborne’s Supermarket is the small supermarket located in the little town of Hugo, Colorado.  The owners are the third generation of the family owning Osborne’s.  They have rural supermarket management skills in their blood and they do an excellent job running their little store. The staff is always pleasant.  The shelves are always full.  What they don’t stock they can order in a lot of cases.  Considering how remote Hugo is, they carry an excellent assortment.  Their food is as fresh as it can be, given the rural situation.  While it’s true that Osborne’s ain’t no Wegman’s, they are excellent for what they are: a rural supermarket in a rural location surrounded by commodity big scale farms.

Osborne’s Supermarket is frequently involved in many community projects.  You may remember the ceiling tile my children painted.  Osborne’s Supermarket donated the paint and ceiling tiles.  Anyone who was willing could come to the Senior Citizen Center that day and paint a ceiling tile.  The painter would have to donate a new book to the library.  At the time, Osborne’s Supermarket needed to replace their old ceiling tiles.  They replaced them with the new ceiling tiles painted by the community members.    It was a win-win for everybody.  Now, years later, every time we go shopping at Osborne’s, my children are sure to show their ceiling tile to me and to anyone else who is willing to look and listen.

One such community outreach that Osborne’s Supermarket did was host a Farmer’s Market in August.  They are rented a tent, at their own expense, and offered free space to anyone who is willing to set up and sell produce and baked goods. The food that the community members sold was actually  in competition with what what lies on the shelves of Osborne’s Supermarket.  The owners of Osborne’s Supermarket were willing to invite competitors onto their property just for the  sake of the community and community outreach.  They asked for nothing in return. No rent. No percentage of sales. Nothing. It’s just their act of good will.

For those of you, like me a few years ago, who may think that a once per year Farmer’s Market doesn’t do a bit of good, let’s again review what Lincoln County is really like.  It’s an area geographically bigger than Delaware.  5000 non-inmate people live here.  There are a handful of towns, with Hugo and Limon being the most populated.  We are surrounded by farmland.  Tons of farmland and now and then a house.  Those farms grow for the commodity market.  They raise their livestock for the feed lots. Lincoln County is Monsanto’s dream.  There are no certified organic farms in Lincoln County, and none most of the bordering counties, either.  (I think there is an organic contract dairy farm maybe 60 miles away from Hugo.) Lincoln County is kind of the opposite of Lancaster County Pennsylvania.  Having a Farmer’s Market here is huge. Huge, even if it is once per year.

I’m a farmer.  My vegetable garden bombed again this year.  So what does that leave me, a farmer, to sell at a Farmer’s Market? Wheat and proso.  The varieties of wheat and proso that we grow on our little farm are actually legal to be sold.  (You may remember that in 2011, we planted a copyrighted variety of wheat which we legally had to sell back to the grain elevator.  It is all sold and gone and out of here.  The last thing I need is to get sued by the Big Ag conglomerate.  I think we more or less decided that we wouldn’t grow anymore of those contracted and copyrighted varieties. The thought of growing something and then not legally being able to eat it is mind-blowing to me.)

Your Joe-Schmo baker does not have a flour grinder.  He may not even be aware of where flour comes from, or where whole wheat flour comes from.  I have a flour grinder.  Hmm, I thought. I can grind flour and sell it.

Enter in the Colorado Cottage Foods Act.  Passed in 2012, the Colorado Cottage Food Act aimed at allowing small home producers to sell their items at roadside stands, their own farm or farmer’s markets.  Maybe I’m naive, but I do believe that there were good intentions behind the Colorado Cottage Food Act.  For the most part, it loosened up the rules for producers (with sales under $5000 annually per item) to produce and sell their wares.  I’ll pick on jelly, for example.  Before this law, a home producer would have to rent an inspected kitchen to make and can their jelly.  Now thanks to the Colorado Cottage Foods Act, they can do this at home, add some required labeling, and sell up to $5000 worth annually (as long as it isn’t “low-sugar” jelly) free of regulation.

The Colorado Cottage Foods Act has a big list of dos and do-nots.  Flour wasn’t mentioned.  There was a short blurb in the dried bean section about calling the Colorado Department of Agriculture about flour.  OK.  I did. Press this for that. Yadda. Yadda.  A few people passed me around.  “Call your local public health department,” was the answer I finally received.

So apparently, prior to my phone call, the local health department had no idea that they were the ones responsible for enforcing the Colorado Cottage Foods Act.  Yeah. So they didn’t know anything about flour.  A few phone calls and rigamarole later, I got the answer.  Flour is not under the Colorado Cottage Foods Act.  Producing flour requires “too much preparation, equipment and cleaning”.  To sell flour, I must be licensed as a Retail Food Establishment.

Let’s pause for a moment here.  Have you ever made jelly?  It is a long and involved process.  (You may remember that I’ve talked a little bit about canning jelly here and here.)  Have you ever ground flour? You put the wheat berries in the grinder, turn it on, and Viola! out pops flour

So don’t tell me, Colorado Lawmakers, that making flour is more involved than making jelly. You are just wrong.

I am a law abiding citizen.  This is why I did not sell flour at Osborne’s Farmers Market or any other Farmers Market for that matter.  (Plus the night before my son ate a magnet and I had to take a road trip to Aurora to the Emergency Room that evening.)

Posted in The Irony of a Food Desert Surrounded by Farms by with no comments yet.

Bella’s Market and Chicken Zoning

Yesterday I went to Bella’s Market in Limon to do some grocery shopping.

You may remember that Bella’s Market was a chain of eight grocery stores in Eastern Colorado.  Bella’s Market has been failing the communities they serve for years.  The stores had empty shelves and just about no groceries.  Last week they closed three stores.   Perhaps that’s not a big deal because they hardly had any groceries anyway.

I decided to check out Bella’s Market and share some of the pictures with you here, as if you were there, too.

IMG_0221 IMG_0222 IMG_0223 IMG_0224 IMG_0225

IMG_0220You can see Bella’s Market is just about empty and devoid of the main perishables- meat, dairy and produce.  It’s shameful.

I’ve already talked about how it’s ironic that Eastern Colorado is a food desert that’s surrounded by farms and that even though Bella’s Market has failed the residents, the farmers have also failed them.  I’ve even gone into details on how Bella’s Market has disproportionately failed the poor of these areas.

I’d like to get on my retail high horse and talk about PDQ’s and top stock.  As you may remember, I worked all of my adult life before children in retail management.  I am a merchandising expert.  PDQ stands for pretty darn quick.  PDQ’s are complete displayers filled with product. They are typically made of cardboard and placed in high traffic areas to facilitate impulse buying and add-on sales.  The stocker simply takes the PDQ out of the box, sets it up and Viola! that merchandise is stocked and displayed pretty darn quickly, hence the name PDQ.  On the right side of the picture above, you can see an example of a PDQ.  While walking through Bella’s I saw several such PDQ’s.  Many were half empty, too.  PDQ’s are not a necessary integral part of the store.  If Bella’s Market wanted to give the illusion that they were stocked, even if it was a facade, they should have gotten rid of all the PDQ’s and worked that merchandise into the aisles.

My next Retail 101 lesson involves topstock.  Topstock is defined as extra merchandise stored visibly on the top of the store level shelves.  Topstock would require an employee on a ladder to safely reach it and bring it down for the customer.  An empty store like Bella’s should not have top stock, which they do all over.  Working the topstock in to the shoppable levels of the store would only facilitate the illusion that Bella’s Market was slightly fuller than it was and wouldn’t do a thing to stock Bella’s with perishable merchandise so desperately needed in the food desert.  Bringing topstock down to shoppable heights would look better and perhaps generate a little bit of sales. Working PDQ’s and top stock into the regular aisles would be a bandaid to mask the problem, but it would have been worth a try.

The Bella’s Market locations in Limon and Stratton have closed now, too.  They were purchased by a grocer in a neighboring town.  Hopefully, the new grocer will serve these community members well.  There still remains the unknown plight of the other Bella’s Market locations and the food desert left in those areas that Bella’s Markets had served.  I hope that better grocers will come to those towns, too.

Going up and down the aisles of Bella’s Market, I saw a only a few dozen eggs and not one piece of poultry for sale.  Some Limon residents, after being dissatisfied with Bella’s Market failing to meet their grocery needs, thought it might be a good idea to raise their own chickens, to eliminate the need to rely on a grocer.  The problem? Chickens are illegal within the city limits of Limon.  Limon is a small little town in rural Eastern Colorado.  Limon is surrounded by farms.  We’re not talking Manhattan, we’re talking Limon, a small town surrounded by square miles of open acreage.  Yet chickens are illegal in Limon.  I have been following the controversy in the local paper for months.  The town officials are unyielding.

No one has connected the dots.  I’ll connect them for you, Limon town lawmakers.
1. Bella’s Market is a disgrace.  While we wish the new owners of the new supermarket in the former Bella’s location every success, there is a possibility that the new store may run into problems, too.  Any store can, even if it was Wal-mart moving in.
2.  We are too dependent on the food distribution system.  We in Lincoln County are surrounded by farms, yet Bella’s Market looked the way it did.
3.  When people try to provide for themselves and bypass the whole system, it is illegal.  Your residents want to take steps to eliminate the need for a supermarket, or at least the need to buy eggs from a supermarket.  Your law has created a roadblock.


Not in Limon

Not in Limon

On the other end of town, there is a bright spot, the Limon Community Garden, where the local residents are growing fresh vegetables for themselves. These gardeners do not have to rely on Bella’s Market or long trips to Denver to meet their produce needs.  I suppose Limon will make gardening illegal, too.


Posted in The Irony of a Food Desert Surrounded by Farms by with 5 comments.

Bella’s Market and the Rural American Food Desert

You may have heard the big news that Bella’s Market, a chain of eight small grocery stores on the Eastern Prairie of Colorado has closed three of its stores.  This story, first of the empty store shelves and now of the closings, has made all the Denver news outlets.  I am going to weigh in on this, well, because I have all of those Jersey girl opinions.

The closest Bella’s Market to me is the one in Limon, Colorado.  I remember distinctly the last time I was there- it was well over a year ago.  The store shelves were empty then.  The product was front-faced (retail-speak for pulled forward) and spread out to make the store look full.  And that was then.  I hear it has only gotten worse.

In the town of Hugo, Colorado, just 13 miles down the road from Limon, there is an independent supermarket called Osborne’s Supermarket.  Osborne’s is a generational family business.  That family has rural supermarket management in their blood. They do an excellent job.  They are the third generation.  Osborne’s is what it is- it is a small supermarket in a small town.  They’ll never be Wegman’s.  But they carry A LOT of stuff considering that, and even run some decent sales sometimes.  Their prices are not competitive with Sam’s Club, but perhaps nearly the same prices as a “fancy” supermarket chain, maybe like Safeway.  I would like to support their business more than I do, but honestly, their prices are almost double the price of Sam’s.  I am grateful that they are there for me.  I am grateful for the service they provide to this community.  I am grateful that when I do need something in a pinch, they are there for me, and there for me with smiles and great customer service, too.


The aisles of Osborne’s Supermarket are always clean and bright and fully stocked.

The Colorado communities of Akron, Gypsum, Haxton, Limon, Stratton, Walden, Wellington, and Wiggins are not as lucky as the folks in Hugo.  These are the 8 communities served by Bella’s Market.  And now Akron, Wiggins and Walden have absolutely no supermarket since Bella’s closed.  They are all small little towns in small little rural farming communities.

I don’t pretend to know what goes into managing a supermarket in a rural community.  I do know that the fine people from Osborne’s have it down to a science and the owner of Bella’s has failed.  Before becoming a wife and mother, I worked all of my adult life in retail management, so I know far more about running a store than your average Joe.  If I had the funds or desire, I still would not know how to operate a supermarket in one of these rural towns.  I’m sure that there are nuances beyond nuances about it.

A food desert is a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain.  These communities in Eastern Colorado are textbook definitions of food deserts, yet they are surrounded by farms.

Bella’s Market was so bad that if any halfway decent grocer had come to any of those towns, the new grocer would have the majority of the community’s food dollar.  But no new grocer has come.

Years ago, before kids and Colorado, I sat in on a meeting of my employer’s real estate department.  The company was expanding. They were considering opening additional stores in certain locations.  They had tables, tables of the population amounts within certain radii of the proposed location.  The population data, which had come from the census bureau, was the principle deciding factor of where they would put additional locations.  If other companies use similar criteria, than of course no chain supermarket will ever move to these areas.

I predict that the other five Bella’s Market locations will close shortly.  They may never be replaced.  No other grocer has moved into these towns yet and Bella’s has been failing for years. And years.

The food desert keeps the poor poorer.  I can live fine without Bella’s Market, but others aren’t so lucky.  I’m going to explain why the Bella’s Market chain closing is bad news for the poor of Eastern Colorado in particular.
The poor do not have access to the grocery delivery alternatives.  Grocery Express is a company that delivers groceries from Sam’s Club, Wal-mart and King Soopers to some of these Eastern Colorado areas.  Many groceries are available from Amazon and even Wal-mart will now deliver non-perishable groceries free (with a minimum $50 purchase).  Online places don’t take food stamps or WIC checks.  That eliminates the poor’s valuable access to these needed groceries.    The poor are also less likely to be able to order online because many have no credit cards to use to order online.  Not all companies take prepaid cards online.  And even if a company did, the card fees add another expense. (Updated 8/14/14 to reflect that Grocery Express does take food stamp cards.)
The poor may not have a suitable vehicle or any vehicle at all.  There is a difference between having a car that could drive 100 miles each way to the Wal-mart Supercenter and one that you can just take around town.  The poor are the ones who may not be able to afford road trip worthy vehicles.
Even if the poor have a suitable vehicle, do they have the gas money? Even traveling the 13 miles from Limon to Hugo, can they afford that gas, each way?
Living paycheck to paycheck makes stocking up difficult. How can the poor afford to stock up on certain groceries when it’s just not in the budget?  They have to shop more often.  This means more grocery road trips than those who can afford to buy a month or two of groceries at once.
Being stuck in that small little town means having to shop other places. In Limon, for example, besides Bella’s Market, there are a few stores which carry a handful of groceries: ALCO, Dollar General, Loaf’N’Jug and the truck stops.  Besides the latter two being very expensive, none of these places offer very healthy food.  Processed garbage is the only type of groceries that the poor will have access to.

Eastern Colorado is pretty much all farms.  Lincoln County, for example, is bigger than the state of Delaware.  We have about 5000 non-inmate people living in the whole county.  There are a few little towns: Arriba, Genoa, Hugo, Karval and Limon.  About half of the population of Lincoln County is concentrated in the maybe six combined square miles of towns.  The other around 2500 people are spread out, spread out over the farmland.  We have a lot of farms.  A lot of farms which are several-square-miles-big.  How can we be food desert when we are surrounded by farms?  How come I can’t sell meat or wheat to my neighbor?  Why don’t we have orchards or vegetables grown locally?  I know water is scarce, but maybe we can use roof runoff or something.  We shouldn’t be looking for salvation by a supermarket.  We should be able to take care of ourselves as a farming community.  We don’t.  This is so ironic. And sad.  We farmers are no better than the owners of Bella’s Market.  We’ve failed, too.

So what is the solution?  I think we have to look two models and learn from them both: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and Osborne’s Supermarket.

You may remember that I have written about Lancaster County, Pennsylvania before.  Located in central Pennsylvania, Lancaster County is abound with farmers markets, stores and roadside stands that feature produce, yummy cheeses, jams, pies and such other unique fare. I bet they could get by just about fine without a supermarket, or close to fine at least.  We farmers should imitate them.  This will take generations.

I mentioned Osborne’s Supermarket above.  Osborne’s is the small grocery store in the small town of Hugo.  For a little supermarket, they have a wonderful selection.  They have decent sales and OK prices.  They provide jobs to many town residents.  They can order a lot of items that they don’t stock on the shelf.  Osborne’s has wonderful customer service.  Their store is clean and bright.  They participate in community activities.  Their business seems to always be busy.  They seem proof that successfully running a supermarket in a rural community can be done.  The communities that Bella’s Market served (except Limon) are far enough away from Osborne’s to not be a competitor.  Any potential grocer who is considering serving some of the communities should look to Osborne’s Supermarket as a model.

(I put a chick over my children's names.) My children's artwork hangs on the ceiling of Osborne's Supermarket.

(I put a chick over my children’s names.)
This is a ceiling tile.  My children’s artwork hangs on the ceiling of Osborne’s Supermarket.

I honestly don’t know what the ultimate solution is.  I don’t have the desire (or funds or gumption or skill set) to open up my own supermarket in one of those towns.  If it was an easy proposition, someone would have done it already.  Bella’s Market has failed the communities.  But whose job is it to serve those communities with groceries?

Posted in The Irony of a Food Desert Surrounded by Farms by with 8 comments.