How Groceries Can Improve a Community
It’s not just about convenience. It’s a key step in Seshat Walker’s plan to make life better for everyone in her neighborhood.
Growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Seshat Walker loved her area’s sense of community. Now the 45-year-old mother of two and owner of a creative-strategy consultancy firm wants to foster that same feeling in the big-city neighborhood she calls home.
Walker moved to Deanwood, a neighborhood in Ward 7 in Washington, D.C., east of the Anacostia River, a decade ago. The neighborhood has seen a recent influx of new families, attracted to its affordable housing and green spaces. As a founding member of Deanwood’s Nextdoor chapter, Walker uses the social media network to get to know newcomers, stay informed about issues, and promote her own local activism. Over the years, she has also organized community events and documented Deanwood’s history and people in a book, among other projects. One issue Walker is especially passionate about lately: getting a new grocery store in Deanwood.
Though Deanwood is gentrifying, it’s a “food desert,” without affordable, high-quality grocery stores. A 2017 report found that Ward 7 and nearby Ward 8 have just three supermarkets between them—far fewer than the D.C. average of six per ward. There are liquor and corner stores, says Walker, but they mostly carry canned goods, not fresh fruits and vegetables. She often treks to Maryland for groceries, which, she says, isn’t an option for her neighbors without a car.
Last year Walker and a friend in academia who has studied food justice solicited residents’ thoughts on the severity of the situation and shared the results online and on posters, which they hung near high-traffic bus stops and corner stores. Walker is encouraged that people have reached out in response. “People are motivated,” she says; they’re asking questions about community meetings and offering ways to show support. “The sharing keeps happening. The information is getting out there.”