Economic development, healthy food and youth engagement intersect at new neighborhood grocery store

How much impact can a single grocery store have? Well, according to Maurice ‘Moe’ Wince, the owner of Sherman Park Grocery Store, it can have quite a lot and it goes beyond food.

The grocery store, located at 4315 W. Fond du Lac Ave., is the newest addition to the Sherman Park neighborhood. While the store’s primary goal is to provide access to healthy and affordable food in an area known as a food desert, its innovative approach offers economic opportunity and experience for young people in the neighborhood.

The vegetables, fruits and herbs sold in the store are grown there through hydroponic technology and not only that, they’re grown by local youth.

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation saw an opportunity to uplift work that directly correlates to its own mission to create lasting solutions to structural inequities while listening to community voice.

“The Foundation and I are interested in these community-led type initiatives. I think it’s imperative for us to support community-led initiatives that are really game changers for neighborhoods,” said Kermiath McClendon, the Foundation’s impact investing manager. “We need to support community empowerment and social type developments and initiatives as much as possible, especially if it aligns with what we’re going for, which is a Milwaukee for all.”

McClendon noted that the impact is multifold with access to fresh and healthy food, internship and job opportunities for youth and a revitalization of the area.

The Sherman Park Grocery Store’s presence correlates with the work of the PRISM Economic Development Corporation, an organization created by Embassy Center MKE, formerly known as Parklawn Assembly of God, that strives to respond to the gaps in the community’s basic needs through funding and opportunity.

Although the store operates independently of PRISM, it’s all a part of the area’s economic ecosystem, said Wince, who serves as board member of PRISM.

A $75,000 Foundation grant made it possible for the grocery store to complete the necessary renovations and purchase hydropods from Forks Farms, a hydroponics equipment supplier based in Green Bay.

This summer, approximately 10 youth will participate in the store’s entrepreneurship program being offered in partnership with Embassy. The Foundation supported the program with a $25,000 grant. In the program, youth will learn about urban agriculture, business, entrepreneurship and marketing.

Jason Mims is the congregational care pastor for Embassy and a longtime member. He explained that the church’s four strategic directions are celebration, calling, connection and children.

“We have a heavy emphasis on investing in our youth and giving them opportunities to be able to see beyond their immediate perspectives,” he said.

When young people are introduced to healthy food, it correlates with their families being exposed as well, Mims said. Furthermore, the program is an investment in their talents, gifts and purposes and that translates to colleges, apprenticeships and opportunities.

The youth will grow the vegetables and then sell them to culinary artists including those associated with UpStart Kitchen, PRISM’s commercial kitchen space and food business incubator for entrepreneurial culinary artists that launched in 2020. The Foundation previously supported the kitchen with a $25,000 grant and through donor advised funds.

In turn, the entrepreneurs will create food and dishes that will be sold in the grocery store.

Wince said the key to the grocery store and PRISM’s work is measured by its reach and its impact.

The grocery store and PRISM’s partner in this work is CommunityIMPACT, a nonprofit that helps groups utilize and access resources. The group has been involved with PRISM since the beginning when Bishop Walter Harvey first approached Rick Kindschi, the executive director.

Harvey is the CEO of PRISM and previously served as the senior pastor at Parklawn.

Kindschi noted that PRISM’s projects are all a part of a cohesive vision.

“We’re trying to reach the whole city and this framework is easy to replicate. Historically these businesses were created to sustain this local neighborhood, and that’s why we have so many of these micro-downtowns all across the city,” he said. “There never was an intention to always go downtown or always go on to the interstate. Each of these economic downtowns was just that – to support and sustain local residents.”

The impact felt by the grocery store will be felt immediately and seen long term.

“The measurements are beyond economic,” Harvey said. “They’ll be measured in terms of health; they’ll be measured in terms of educational outcomes because kids have a balanced metabolism because of the food that’s going in and the quality of life coming out.”

The store officially opened Friday, July 15. It aims to serve 2,500 people a month.

“I’m looking forward to the change,” Wince said. “The change in providing fresh fruits and vegetables or access to fresh fruits and vegetables, quality and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. [And] the participation of youth here at Parklawn and Sherman Park’s youth – with the hopes that gleaning and harvesting the products will cause healthy eating, entrepreneurship and in some sense crime prevention.”

McClendon noted that the work the Foundation is doing with PRISM and Embassy Center to provide resources is a good indicator of the work the Foundation can do in partnership with community.

“We can continue to build upon our current work of outreach and community engagement and open office hours and really try to get our name and our presence out in the community,” McClendon said. “Exposure and awareness of who we are will help us find these opportunities on both ends… Let them lead the conversation. We’re not designed to tell the community what they need but to listen and be out there more.”