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Foodies look to new West Side market

A new market on Providence's West Side will bring local foods to an area that currently lacks organic grocery options. Fertile Underground, a cooperative organization dedicated to supporting sustainable agriculture, is opening "a vanguard corner store" at 1577 Westminster St. at the end of June, said Michael Giroux, a member of the group.

"Everyone knows that vegetables are an important part of the balanced diet, and it's important for the food to be fresh," Giroux said. "That's where local comes in."

The group would like to expand beyond produce and offer prepared foods, household goods and bulk goods such as cereals and pastas. To cut down on refrigeration costs, the store does not plan to offer a wide variety of meat but will supply price lists for free-range meat from local farmers that can be ordered in-store.

"We know a number of gardeners in Providence who would be excited about providing for the store," Giroux said. The group is aiming to procure most of the produce from within a 30-mile radius, he added.

The prices at the store should be comparable to those at a farmer's market, Giroux said. Fertile Underground will help farmers distribute their products so they can focus more on farming. One farmer plans to offer his produce to the store at a lower price than he usually charges because he will not have to spend time selling it himself, Giroux said.

The group plans to teach people how they can eat cheaply and still buy basic grains and fresh vegetables. "You can cook up big meals for a bunch of people for less than 10 bucks," Giroux said.

Members of Fertile Underground are not strangers to eating on a budget, he added. "All of us have been in positions where we've been trying to eat affordably and have been forced to shop at Whole Foods Market anyway because we liked the quality," he said. The natural and organic supermarket Whole Foods Market currently operates two stores on the East Side, both about three miles from the new Westminster Street market.

"Everybody (in the neighborhood) has been waiting for an alternative to the Whole Foods model," said Kari Lang, executive director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, in an April 11 Providence Journal article.

The association — which owns the building and began construction in response to community calls for a neighborhood grocery store — was "looking for a group of people to carry on the vision that they felt was in the spirit of the West Side," Giroux said. The association asked Fertile Underground to take on the project of opening and operating the store.

Since its inception in January 2009, Fertile Underground has built gardens around Providence in reclaimed neglected properties, rented land, sidewalk medians and public spaces. Last year, the group gave excess food to Amos House, a local soup kitchen. This year, such surpluses will go to the store.

The group is composed of around 30 artists focused on achieving "access to not only fresh food for health but also healthy ways of life within a somewhat insane society," Giroux said.

The group also plans to circulate a food truck that will offer prepared local foods starting in May.

Currently, Fertile Underground is seeking small loans from community members that would operate as three-year bonds with a 5 percent interest rate. The group will need $50,000 to "get off on the right foot," Giroux said.

Outside of providing fresh, local food to the West Side community, the group wants to "give the place a feeling of vibrant togetherness," he said. "People can actually meet there and sit down and hang out."



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