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Lessons from South L.A.: Market Makeovers' New Website Teaches Youth How to 'Green' a Food Desert

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Earlier this year, as part of a talk about food and community held at the California Endowment, we learned about the teens in South Los Angeles in a group called HEAC who had been working with Market Makeovers. Their mission is to encourage their peers to try snacking on healthier, fresh alternatives to chips and candy bars, and to help owners of area corner stores convert the space to make the healthy options more appealing and accessible to the clientele.

Good profiles the Market Makeovers team in their blog today, providing readers with more information about the amazing work local high schoolers do in their communities to help "green" the "food desert." Now they have set up an online space that can help others do what they do: "Last week, they launched a new website containing a fun, user-friendly toolkit with amazingly creative ways for teenagers to green the food deserts around them." The site breaks down what a food desert and market makeover are, and explains the benefits.

Making over a market isn't easy; the project involves being educated about why the area is considered a food desert, as well as the politics of business that create a climate for sponsored displays (as in "The Great Wall of Doritos") and why selling fruits and vegetables isn't as profitable. Good explains how their initial makeover worked:

The first store to be converted, the Coronado Market in South Los Angeles, happened to be owned by one of the student’s godparents, so personal connections made it easier to approach the owner. But the response from the community has proved there’s a business opportunity there. “He has seen the sales of the fruits and vegetables increase and heard the customers like it,” says [Market Makeovers founder Mike] Blockstein. “He’s actually going to open a second store and carry over these concepts into another place.”
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The work Market Makeovers' teens do is helping address the very serious issues of health in a neighborhood where obesity and diabetes proves both rampant and deadly.