A grocery store in Richford — the only one within ten miles — has shut down. But the town’s healthcare center has stepped in to ensure residents continue to have access to fresh food.

Northern Tier Center for Health, or ‘Notch’ for short, took charge of the former Vista Foods, which closed the store in late June. They have renaming the store ‘Main Street Market’.

“There’s a real need to avoid being a food desert. And that’s what would happen if there wasn’t access,” said Pam Parsons, executive director of Northern Tier Center for Health.

“In small communities, sometimes it’s hard to keep a business going, but it doesn’t mean the community doesn’t need the business,” said Parsons.

Richford is one of those small communities. While residents can rely on convenience stores and Dollar Generals, Main Street Market is the closest store that sells fresh produce.

“It helps out a lot of people that can’t get out of town and it just provides a place for people who can come get a few groceries if they need to instead of driving all the way to Enosburg,” said store director Mitchell Johnson.

Enosburg’s grocery store is about ten miles away.

An associate professor in UVM’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science says this classifies as a food desert. But in recent years, food deserts have also come to mean something else.

“It’s not that there’s a lack of places to get food, it’s actually a lack of nutrient-rich foods that are economically accessible,” said Dr. Emily Belarmino.

Anore Horton, the executive director of Hunger-Free Vermont says one in four Vermonters is experiencing food insecurity because of the pandemic. Especially, during the winter months, this is likely to increase in the winter as federal relief programs start to expire.

“Having the resources to access food is one thing, then there’s just the physical ability to get to someplace that not just has any food but enough of a variety of food that you can eat healthfully,” said Horton.

Parsons says Notch is simply responding to this need and has helped operate the store as an LLC for the last three months. She hopes Main Street Market can soon function as its own non-profit under Notch’s supervision.

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