A step toward Oak Park deserting its ‘food desert’ status

By Elizabeth Meza

Oak Park residents are getting groceries at better prices without driving outside the neighborhood due to the recent opening of a new Rancho San Miguel Market on 4401 Broadway. The neighborhood has long struggled with being considered a ‘food desert.’

The new store offers traditional Hispanic bakery items, a full-service meat department and a salsa bar. Operated under PAQ, Inc., it’s the first Rancho San Miguel Market in Sacramento. Other locations are spread throughout the Central Valley in areas like Stockton, Merced, and Lodi.

Community leaders in Oak Park hope it will help address major ongoing problems around accessibility to fresh, healthy and affordable groceries. According to the Economic Research Service of the U.S Department of Agriculture, one of the ways to measure food store access is to consider income, transportation and store distance.

“A lot of them don’t have cars,” said Wilson Nunn, the store director of the Rancho San Miguel Market. “So, they are not within walking distance of other stores. It’s beneficial to them to have this store back in the area because it’s close to them.”

He added, “Most of these employees live around here – they walk to work. Oak Park wanted us to hire their people and empower their community, so we did. They’re good workers, I love them.”

Nunn explained that the store is geared toward reasonable prices for customers, especially those shopping for their families.

 “Our focus in this company has always been on family shopping,” he noted. “A lot of the products we sell are at a comfortable price for big families … Customers are excited. They love it, and they like the way the store looks. I have worked with the company for 30 years and I have not seen a market in our chain this beautiful.”

Dr. Lynn Hanna, department chair in Family and Consumer Sciences at Sacramento State, says that the opportunity to buy quality groceries is vital to a child’s development.

“Having access to quality nutrition is linked to- especially for children- better performance in school, better outcomes in school, and greater opportunities for their future,” Hanna said. “Child development is a time when a person’s body needs quality nutrition. Not having quality nutrition in terms of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in diet sets a child up for problems later down the line.”

Hanna also points out that living in a food desert can be difficult for those who want more options.

 “What it means to live in a food desert is to not have access to the variety of foods that you feel will be best for your health and wellbeing,” she explained. “If you don’t have a grocery store nearby, you have to make decisions and sacrifices, in some cases, to go someplace else where that stuff is available to you. Not having access to that leaves a person making choices they may not be comfortable with.”

The new PAQ, Inc. store, which opened in late March, is starting to attract loyal customers.

Mario Lewis, a 39-year-old Oak Park resident, said that this new location is easy to visit.

“I used to go to Foods Co.,” he said. “It was inconvenient. Me and my wife already don’t like going to the grocery store. To have to get in the car and drive there is always inconvenient. And this store is a 5-minute walk from me.”

“It’s fairly priced here, I would say,” Lewis went on. “For what I’m looking for (in groceries) it’s perfect.”

Janine Tash, another Rancho San Miguel Market customer, said she plans to continue shopping at the store.

 “The prices are comfortable,” Tash agreed. “We grew up in this area. So, we would like to support this store. They needed this in the neighborhood, and we’d like to see it stay here.”

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