I sometimes ride the GTA bus route 14 which stops in front of my house and takes me to Greene Street where I walk to my mental health classes at the Wellness Center. Afterwards I walk to the Depot and and catch the bus home. Travel time, round trip is 2 hours and I'm not complaining. I'm just glad I don't have to ride GTA to the grocery store.
Because there is no longer a grocery store in my neighborhood many of my neighbors do have to take GTA to the grocery store. It usually goes like this. Walk to the bus stop, catch the bus and ride downtown to the Depot, wait 30 minutes at the Depot then catch the next outbound to the grocery store. Do your shopping but buy no more than 4 bags of groceries because no more than 4 bags are allowed on the GTA bus. Now catch the bus to the Depot, wait 30 minutes and catch an outbound bus home. Cost $3.oo, travel time, at least 2 hours.
But wait, here's the kicker.
Those of you who have families know full well that 4 bags of groceries will not last a week. That means this person is going to have to make this journey 2 or more times per week, every week for as long as their family lives in this neighborhood. Imagine if you had to spend $6.oo or more and 4 hours or more every week just traveling to and from the nearest grocery store. This is what dozens upon dozens of my neighbors do every week and these are people who live in public housing and exist on disability or welfare. No wonder they can't work, they spend all week going to and from the grocery store. But to be fair, many of them do work every day they can find work.
Funny thing is: there is a building and a parking lot where a grocery store used to be in my neighborhood and it's owned by the City of Greensboro. The City bought the property, started remodeling the building, built a beautiful new public library in the corner of the parking lot and promised us a grocery store years ago but never made it happen. As in most things East Greensboro, the City of Greensboro dropped the ball and went back downtown with plans to build something new somewhere else. (See my story, The Grocery Store Ain't Coming)
So here's what I'm thinking. I am very good at building things. When I was eleven years old my mother asked if I wanted a football or a hammer for my birthday. I chose a hammer. I'm not a pro but there is no type of farm or construction equipment that I cannot operate to some degree. I've completely disassembled and reassembled cars, trucks and motorcycles. I've driven tractor-trailers and built houses from the foundations to the roof. And I know plenty of people who can and would be willing to do the things I'm not qualified to do.
A grocery store doesn't have to be a chain. Ever heard of IGA in Charlotte or MDI in Hickory? Their Billion Dollar businesses are built on stocking independent grocers. I bumped both their docks hundreds of times when I was trucking. They carry all the same brands as the chain grocers.
I'm also pretty good at growing food. My tiny backyard gardens and chickens provide food for 3 families. I donate most of my food stamps to people who have less than me. Soon I hope to try my hand at raising fish. And when it comes to gardening I've got a mentor with 70 years of experience. We could be growing part of the food we sell.
What I'm not good at is the paperwork. I don't have the patience for it. And my health is failing. What I would like to see is for someone to start a non profit grocery store on the City owned site where the old Winn Dixie used to be. I don't know anything about running a grocery store but at least part of the produce could be grown on the 1000 empty acres the City owns in East Greensboro and the store could provide jobs right here in the neighborhood. Allow me to teach people what I know, put me to work, put them to work and bring a grocery store back to my neighborhood.
Would someone please step up, start a non profit, put together a board of directors and help me help my neighborhood before my time passes and I'm no longer able to pass along what I know? My neighbors deserve better than Greensboro has given them thus far and it's all too apparent the City isn't planning to help.
By the way, the next time Mayor Perkins mentions the City going into the commercial real estate business, will someone please remind him that the City has yet to sell the Bessemer Shopping Center after all these years. That's the site I'm talking about today.
Update: Roch Smith Jr wrote the following concerning this post: "Greensboro is a cliquish city where people are slow to let go of grudges formed by slights, real or imagined, against their cliques, so I'm afraid this very excellent idea for a non-profit grocery store to serve the food desert of east Greensboro will be handicapped because of who is suggesting it. But that doesn't mean it isn't a great idea."
I replied: "You're right Roch, the idea will be handicapped because I thought of it but if others would like to make it come true and think me a liability then I will gladly stand aside and allow them to go it on their own. I've already asked someone else to spearhead the idea, all I really want to do is teach but if my teaching is a problem... Well, I'd be happy just to be able to walk to the grocery store like I used to do.
I will not fight for control of this project, my health will no longer allow me these battles. I just dream up the projects, someone else will have to build them.
And thank you for spreading the word."
Update 2: If you're not convinced yet, it doesn't have to end there. A grocery store could be just the beginning. A grocery story could sell locally grown produce from existing local farmers and a cannery could be built so that year round demands could be met. A job training program could be built around it.
In conjunction with nearby A&T University, an urban agrucurtural program could be developed that developed rooftop and vertical farming. Drive by my house and you'll see I'm raising vertical crops in US Army surplus rocket launchers and I've learned how to grow 6 to 8 tomato or cucumber plants in the space normally required to grow 1 plant. Greensboro could become a world leader in urban agraculture at a time when much of the world is facing food shortages. Say you want to attract the best and brightest minds to our city? Feed them.
Check out my tomatillos. They're an amazing vegetable native to North Carolina that looks and tastes much like a green tomato. They're $4.oo a pound at Food Lion and they grow wild right here in Guilford County. Tomatillos are high in vitamin C and are the primary ingredient in most salsas. They make great chow-chows, relish, are great in scrambled eggs, fried like green tomatos and an excellent addition to fresh salads. Their shelf life is longer than tomatos, require no pesticides and prefer organic fertilizers. I tell people Tomatillos are stupid easy to grow because all I really do to mine is make sure they're watered and pick them from early summer until frost. All they ask is the best soil, water and plenty of sunlight. And I make very good soil in my home-built composters.
I sometimes use as much as 200 gallons of water a day but even in years of drought I don't need City water to water my gardens. You see, I have a system that stores over 2000 gallons of rain water above and below ground that I built from junk. It's partly gravity operated but requires an electric pump that costs pennies a month to operate and is so simple anyone could do it once they've seen it. And it's expandable.
Most years I have fresh vine ripened tomatoes until Christmas on vines grown outdoors. You'll have to talk to me in person to learn that centuries old secret. But like I said, I don't want to run this thing, I just want to teach people what I've spent a lifetime learning before I ride off into the sunset. You see, I've no one to leave it to.
Billy Jones For Mayor Of Greensboro
Click here to read what I would do if you elected me to be Mayor of Greensboro.