A new Soul Foods Conscious Grocer initiative provides access to affordable food

By in News

Riversdale’s Soul Foods Conscious Grocer is in the process of establishing a pay-what-you-can shelf for community members, with goals to give better access to affordable and healthy food options and to bridge the gap of high food prices within the core neighbourhood.

Located on the corner of 20th Street and Avenue D, Soul Foods Conscious Grocer has provided fresh produce from local and organic suppliers since opening its doors in 2017. On Sept. 23, Soul Foods announced a pay-what-you-can option for an array of frozen meals. For Mallory Guenther, co-owner of Soul Foods Conscious Grocer, this option addresses some of the barriers that prevent access to healthy food in Riversdale.

“We definitely understand that not everyone — especially in this area — can have access to and afford these higher priced organic food items. The price point of some of these foods is often a barrier to health,” Guenther said.

Riversdale lies in a notable food desert, which is an urban area where it is difficult to have access to affordable, nutritious food. A 2016 resource completed by an urban agriculture research study at the University of Saskatchewan called Food by Ward found that, in Saskatoon’s Ward 2, where Riverdale is, there are no supermarkets and little access to fresh produce. In Ward 6, there are as many as eight supermarkets.

The pay-what-you-can shelf was born from the store’s Full Circle initiative, which aims to reduce food packaging and provide Saskatonians with fresh food from local and organic providers. Under this plan, produce at Soul Foods is available for a few days and then it is preserved by fermentation and freezing to minimize food waste.

Currently, these frozen meals on the pay-what-you-can shelf include soups, stews and bone broths. The meals are available for purchase by anyone and can be a healthy option for students on a budget. Soul Foods is also hoping to extend this pay-what-you-can option to include fresh produce and salads.

Guenther believes that the frozen shelf is an opportunity to make a difference in the Riversdale community by creating a more transparent relationship between food providers and consumers.

“We believe in transparency around our food systems. We’re really trying to reclaim that honesty and that transparency around where our food comes from and how it creates an impact on our overall state of well-being,” Guenther said.

Since the start of the pay-what-you-can shelf, Guenther says that people both inside and outside of Saskatoon have reached out in support of the initiative.

“We’ve had such a generous outpour of support from people in the community, people in the city and people that don’t even live in the city,” Guenther said. “[People have been] reaching out to us through our social media and through our email, saying that they want to donate directly to the program.”

While the pay-what-you-can shelf is a new initiative, Guenther believes that it is one that will stay, and ultimately, one that is emblematic of Soul Food values.

“It’s about creating sustainability for ourselves that isn’t just something we’re offering for a month but something we can [have] here for a sustainable period of time and really anchor into the community,” Guenther said.

Lauren Klassen

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor