WASHINGTON — Neighbors in DC’s Ward 7 will soon have another option for fresh food – founded and operated by people who live there.
Currently, there are only three grocery stores serving more than 160,000 residents in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8.
Mary Blackford noticed it when she moved back to Ward 7 after college.
“I became a vegetarian and quickly realized that we do not have access to a lot of fresh and sustainable foods that were really fitting for my diet at the time, and I found myself going to other parts of the city to actually get access to grocery stores that actually filled my health needs at the time,” she said. “And I was paying $10 each way so $20 roundtrip to actually get access to food and at the end of the month that really added up and I said, 'huh, are other people really dealing with that?'”
She discovered it’s a longstanding problem neighbors there have been facing.
“We really speak of it as a food apartheid, which really speaks to a long history of discriminatory practices that have happened to community of colors, mainly Black communities that really suffer economically and aren't given opportunities to really have sustainable retail in the communities that we serve,” Blackford said.
She decided to develop an oasis in this food desert, and five years later, Market 7 is about to open on Benning Road Northeast in D.C.’s Ward 7.
“I feel such a sense of pride when I look at this building,” Blackford said standing outside of the 7,000 square foot space near the corner of Benning Road NE and 36th Street NE.
Starting in the fall, neighbors will be able to stop by the food hall seven days a week and pick up fresh food from multiple Black-owned businesses.
“Good food is health, and health is wealth. And in this context, we're talking about generational wealth,” Tilman Gerald said.
He serves as the Development Director for Dreaming Out Loud, which is an urban agriculture based nonprofit – a farm, a food hub, and an incubator.
Their farm sits minutes away from the market.
They’re partnering with Market 7 in the hopes of using the hall to connect their farmers to neighbors looking for fresh food.
The eventual goal is for the market to serve as its CSA, which is a Community Supported Agriculture Program.
“The way it works is we gather the community to gather a pool of funds to help the farmers sustain the practice of growing and harvesting the food. So it's quite a substantial risk to put plants in the ground and grow seeds and not have a place to spend to sell the produce. So we kind of bridge the gap between the farmers and the end users or the consumers and make sure everybody is happy in the end,” Gerald said.
He said it’s a game changer to only have to walk five minutes to get fresh food.
“It’s really going to put into perspective, not only so much of an economic hub, or a market hub, but also a cultural anchoring community where people can come and learn about diasporic foods from people who are African American, who are Black, who live in our community, and actually want to serve our community,” Blackford said.
From farm to food hall, it’s picked and provided by the people who live there – finally giving Ward 7 neighbors a sense of food security.
Blackford said she doesn’t have a specific opening date yet, but doors will open in the fall.