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Turning ‘food deserts’ into an oasis of healthy – Jun. 29, 2015

Tasty occasional snacks, no doubt. But when millions of Americas rely on convenience stores as their primary grocery, offering more nutritious options becomes a public health imperative.

Several programs around the country are trying to do just that — putting up the cash so convenience store owners can remodel, showcasing healthy food up front and relegating the sodas and Ding Dongs to the back.

“Right when you come in the door we’ve got veggies, fruits, whole grain cereals,” said Clara Olivares, owner of Olivares Food Market near downtown Philadelphia. “We wanted to offer more choices to our customers, and for the community to get healthier.”

In 2012, Olivares signed up for a program run by The Food Trust, a regional advocacy group that gets funding from a variety of public and private sources. The Food Trust provided money and expertise, sprucing up her store with a new refrigerated display case, awning, vegetable kiosk, as well as signs throughout directing customers to the healthy eats.

The Trust provides training on how to handle fresh produce — such as not storing the bananas next to the apples, as apples give off ethylene, which rots the bananas. There’s tricks on how to sell produce, like never letting just a few pieces of fruit linger at the bottom of a big box, as well as training with ordering and book keeping.