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Susan Johnson: Feeling Clay County's pain (Opinion)

Susan Johnson

Susan Johnson

I certainly felt the pain of Clay Countians when I read in the Gazette-Mail that their IGA closed, leaving the county without a grocery.

In December of 2015, Foodland abruptly closed down its Richwood grocery putting twenty or so folks out of work weeks before Christmas and leaving residents with no place to buy fresh meats and produce. But Richwooders are nothing if not adaptive. Hunting and gathering to put a meal on the table has become a challenge, but out of challenge is born invention.

For me, shopping is like it was a hundred years ago. First, I visit the butcher shop. U-Save was quick to fill the need by bringing in meat from a distributor called Jackson’s Meats — high-quality butchered and packaged fresh beef and pork — at their store just outside of town. The girls at U-Save will slice fresh deli meat and cheese as well.

Next, I go to the greengrocer. Bruce Donaldson’s family was in the grocery business for decades, so he and his wife Melissa responded quickly to the need for produce in Richwood. They expanded their Four Season’s Outfitter store to include fresh fruits and vegetables. His sister Beth will point out the best tomatoes and peaches. A lazy cat named “Purr” might be curled up in front of the onion bin; just step over her. His produce comes on Tuesdays and Fridays: corn, tomatoes, onions, green beans, squash, lettuce, cabbage, peppers, peaches, lemons, limes, celery, carrots, asparagus—you name it. Bruce also sells hand-ground corn meal, molasses, Amish butter, bacon, honey and a wonderful variety of jellies and pickled items.

Next stop: the “dry goods store,” Dollar General. DG’s big truck runs on Fridays, but various vendors bring in the frozen foods, dairy, processed meats, breads and other boxed, jarred and packaged items. “We never know when they’re coming,” the store manager lamented. “They need to come more often.” Sometimes I can find frozen shrimp and Tyson’s chicken in the bag at DG or Curly’s pulled pork barbecue, which is better than I can make. They also have milk, eggs, bacon, sausage, ice cream, soft drinks, wine and beer. If you hit DG on a good day, there’s hardly a thing you won’t be able to find to put together a decent meal.

What DG and the others lack in sophistication, the peddler (Schwan’s Frozen Foods) has. He comes every other Thursday, and I can purchase wild caught salmon or pork tenderloin or gourmet ice cream. If you set up an online account, you save 5 percent, all of which goes to the friendly guys who drive the trucks. They tell me Schwann’s business has exploded since the grocery closed.

Mainly, though, Richwooders eat out. There are no fewer than five thriving eateries as well as two private clubs that serve dinner and alcohol.

Many small rural communities are losing their full-service groceries. It’s a national crisis, one that has coined a new term “food deserts.” The problem is worse in states with sparser population areas like Iowa and Kansas, according to David Procter’s article “The Rural Grocery Crisis” in the Daily Yonder. They have been gobbled up by the mega-stores. Smaller groceries just can’t compete given the slim profit margin on fresh food.

Mobile markets have become popular in big cities: They bring fresh fruits and vegetables into inner city neighborhoods. They could be the answer for rural American food deserts. In Wisconsin and other areas, this is becoming a viable new entry into the gig economy. “Mobile markets, mobile farmers markets, or fresh food carts travel to multiple neighborhoods to sell fresh fruits and vegetables,” according to the University of Wisconsin’s site “What Works for Health.”

These markets on wheels operate on a set schedule so residents know when they can shop. They could fill a dire need in West Virginia while also providing new jobs and business opportunities.

Until then, we are soldiering on here in Richwood, primarily by helping one another and being resourceful. Don’t worry about us. No one is going hungry.

Susan Matthis Johnson’s column “My Side of the Mountain” appears weekly in

the Nicholas Chronicle.


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