How convenience stores in South L.A. are offering more fruits and vegetables
Miguel Hernandez has owned the Los 3 Hernandez Market in South Los Angeles for five years. At his store, he offers more than candy, chips, and soda.
Los 3 Hernandez is one of the convenience stores that affiliates with The Community Markets Purchasing Real and Affordable (COMPRA) Foods and has since gotten more produce to sell.
“They came here and gave me the option to sell fruits,” said Hernandez, 45.
Customers can find oranges, plantains, potatoes, and onions among other items at his store.
COMPRA Foods is a purchasing cooperative in the Los Angeles area that provides produce for low-income communities by bringing fruits and vegetables into local markets, restaurants, and corner stores.
Kateri Gutierrez is a co-manager of COMPRA Foods, which is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture. Her goal in the COMPRA collective is to make produce accessible and affordable for communities.
In South L.A., there are a number of programs in place that make healthy foods more accessible. Community Services Unlimited recently opened the Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center that houses an organic produce market. SÜPRMARKT, since 2016, has provided more than 25,000 pounds of organic fruit, veggies, and seeds in the area. There are also weekly produce trucks that serve the community.
Gutierrez, who is from Southeast Los Angeles, has a personal connection to the work she does for COMPRA Foods.
“I like missions that are pragmatic and making society more equitable,” she said. “If we can switch an apple to a chip one day, that’s great.”
Gutierrez began working in the food industry after opening Collective Avenue Coffee, a cooperative coffee shop that served as a space for the Lynwood community to become involved in the arts. With her experience in food, she decided to take part in COMPRA Foods.
COMPRA Foods was developed in partnership with the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN), the Los Angeles Food Policy Council and the Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement, with the goal of having healthy foods walking distance from low-income families.
“A lot of folks don’t have the luxury of driving out and buying produce, especially when your typical working-class parent has kids at home,” said Gutierrez.
Low-income families can go through great lengths to bring food to their homes.
“They’re working probably one or two jobs, they probably don’t have time to go out, drive to a grocery store and buy produce and cook it, so they get your closest fast food restaurant. Whatever is quickest,” said Gutierrez. “So, if we can make it easier and more accessible to be close to their communities you’ll find corner stores every two, three blocks.”
COMPRA Foods gets its food through vendors at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, where produce is distributed through vendors. The cooperative asks for specific sizes, origins, and brands, then places the order. The produce is stored at Heath & Lejuene, an organic wholesaler, to be organized. COMPRA Foods then goes out into the field and delivers. This process takes place four times a week.
Produce storing, staffing, and technical assistance is given through the Los Angeles Food City Council, but Gutierrez hopes to make the organization self-sustainable in the coming years.
“I think that’s a challenge and I’m up for it,” she said.
For the future of COMPRA Foods, Gutierrez hopes to expand into more stores.
“We’re thinking of merging some of our efforts to grow even more and have a greater impact, and have more offerings for community members,” said Gutierrez.