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NECC Grocery Survey gathers food for thought

MILLERTON — As a way to assess the broader community’s grocery needs, Millerton’s North East Community Center (NECC) launched a Community Grocery Survey in May, focusing on grocery access and improving local grocery options. It’s a key issue in the town of North East, which has been without a supermarket ever since the Millerton Fresh Market closed its doors at the former Grand Union space in Millerton Square Plaza in 2019.

NECC Food Program Director Jordan Schmidt said the community center wants to refresh the conversation and support community dialogue around how to improve grocery access in the region. Over the years, she said there’s been a number of attempts and efforts undertaken in the community to do so. 

Additionally, she said the NECC has held community conversations in the past around grocery access. The most recent took place at the NECC’s first virtual update on Wednesday, May 26, when NECC Executive Director Christine Sergent commented on the nonprofit’s awareness and continued efforts to look into the community’s struggle of “living in a food desert.”

When asked about the term “food desert,” Schmidt said one definition in a rural area is when the nearest full-service grocery store is 10 or more miles away. Adding to that particular challenge is the lack of transportation, which Schmidt said creates larger barriers to food access in rural regions. 

Acknowledging the strengths, barriers and challenges that come with living in such environments, she commented on the number of people who have been working to address these issues and said she’s pleased they’re now collaborating on finding solutions.

Schmidt said the Community Grocery Survey was designed as “a preliminary way to get an understanding of what some of the patterns are in terms of the needs and responses, so we can form a way to move forward from there and reach out to as wide an audience as we can.” 

NECC is hoping to develop a local food planning association to gather more information and learn what local residents need, as well as what their resources and barriers are to help improve grocery access in Millerton and its surrounding towns.

Designing the survey herself, Schmidt compiled around 15 questions, a mix of multiple choice and short answer questions that asks residents about their town of residence, primary language, their household’s annual income level and the number of people living in their household, before moving on to more multiple choice queries such as where they typically get groceries and what they value most in a store’s location. There are also open-ended questions, such as what they find frustrating about getting groceries. Toward the end of the survey, residents are asked whether they’d be interested in being part of a community food planning coalition to work on the project with NECC.

The survey was launched around May 25 and had received about 210 responses as of June 8. Schmidt said the NECC plans to keep the survey up for another month or so while it compiles the data.

The Community Grocery Survey can be completed online at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdRsmSGG4SEwbaJTr-hxV_asual9oXHlAl2ZNzJdJpqm_6XXw/viewform?blm_aid=6971392.

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