Megan Bell
Photo by Laqudia Smith

This Woman Is Slaying A 'Food Desert' With A Black-Owned Grocery Store

Megan Bell is turning a vacant urban space into a healthy food oasis.

Human Interest

Imagine living in a place where you can't conveniently buy fruits, vegetables, and your favorite gluten-free goodies. You don't have easy access to get the ingredients you need for your favorite homemade Greek salad, spaghetti and meatballs, or something as simple as avocado toast. You are limited to buying canned or processed foods from convenience stores or bodegas.

Many in urban areas---especially the poor and minorities---face this reality, living in what are called "food deserts". According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 37 million Americans live in such locales, where they are forced to travel more than a mile to buy affordable, healthy food.

For Megan Bell and her neighbors, surviving a food desert is a norm. The founder of non-profit, Virtuous Women Empowerment Inc., saw a need in her western Louisville, Kentucky community that she could not ignore.

"I come from a neighborhood that has had gang and gun violence. A lot of that stuff as a kid I did not pay much attention to, but now that I'm older and more involved in the community---connecting with community leaders, activists, non-profit founders, and local government---I started to see that there was a gap in our community. That's what really motivated me to start the non-profit and then start the grocery store," Bell told xoNecole in an interview.

The 30-year-old wife and mother of three decided to do something to provide a central location where shoppers can get fresh produce and other grocery items, and the Next Door Market Grocery Store was birthed. She has found a location, a vacant building in Louisville's West End, and she plans to open summer 2021.

"Food is coming from [retail], liquor, or corner stores or gas stations. It's very important that communities have natural, healthier food stores in a community. When we have chronic diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes, it's important to transition how we eat and get the food sources needed to eat healthy."

The statistics reflect that Bell is on to something. A recent Urban League report indicated that 35% of blacks in the Louisville Metro are living at or below the poverty line, while only 15 percent of whites face the same reality. Life expectancy in western Louisville, known as predominantly black, is about 67 years old, compared with 82 years old for those who live in the eastern communities. Alcohol and drug-related deaths are "eight times higher, diabetes six times higher, and stroke three times higher" in the West End compared with the East End.

Through the Next Door Market Grocery Store, Bell also wants to take things a step further by educating community members on using healthy ingredients, storing produce, and cooking. "People respect what you're trying to do in the community when they feel like they're part of something and there's something you give to them," Bell said. "They appreciate it. We have to have food education... giving them a little more encouragement and showing them how is more important than just putting produce in a store."

Megan Bell  Next Door Market Grocery Store Megan Bell stands at the site of the Next Door Market Grocery Store.Photo by Laqudia Smith

Trained as a certified nursing assistant, Bell has always had a passion for helping people. And the need and will to educate and innovate through non-profits and entrepreneurship is something Bell got from her family. "My aunt has her own school, and many of the women in my family have non-profits, too. I believe in empowering women and sisterhood is my number 1 thing."

Through her own organization, she helps women by providing services and hosting events that promote self-accountability, self-esteem, career growth, goal-setting, and healthy lifestyles. She has also volunteered at women's shelters, helping to connect families with resources to combat homelessness. Through this work, she has seen the impact that having easy access to food and produce would have on families, especially women and children. By launching the grocery store, she wants to be an example of service and empowerment even for her own children.

"I want to leave a legacy for my kids to know that even if they don't take the route of having their own business, that they can do something to give back. I want that to be ingrained in them. Maybe they will venture off and do something even bigger and give their generation the ambition to do something great as well."

For more of Megan and her mission, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Megan Bell

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Tisha Campbell has a new show on Netflix called Uncoupled which stars Neil Patrick Harris as his character learns to rebuild his life after a breakup with his long-term partner. While Tisha’s character may not be going through a breakup, the veteran actress has had a similar experience in real life. The Martin star divorced the L.A.’s Finest star Duane Martin after 22 years of marriage and 27 years together in total. Soon after the divorce was finalized, Tisha claimed that Duane left her with $7 to her name but now she is in the restoration phase of her life.

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Black Women, We Deserve More

When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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Featured image: Getty Images

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