Visitacion Valley ‘food desert’ gets an oasis

Living healthy by eating fresh fruits and vegetables can be a challenge for anybody. But for San Franciscans living in the Visitacion Valley “food desert” the task can be near impossible.

Photos by Gabriella Gamboa/SFBay

The arrival of a Grocery Outlet on the corner of Bayshore Blvd. and Sunnydale Avenue this week, however, marks the end to some of that difficulty for the first time in years.

Yoyo Chan, a legislative aid for Supervisor Malia Cohen who represents district 10 told SFBay the location’s owners have come out of the gate as great community members:

“This is something the community has been in need of for a very long time. The new grocery store will respond to the demographics of the neighborhood. It will be a very positive addition.”

Designated a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, residents in Visitacion Valley are described as low income, and having little to no access to supermarkets and vehicles.

To buy healthy, reasonably priced food, area residents must travel more than a mile to the nearest grocery store, usually by bus, and return the same way, carrying their heavy bags of food.

Their other option is to rely on expensive convenience stores or unhealthy fast food restaurants for their dietary needs.

This lack of access to supermarkets make it difficult for residents to buy healthy fresh foods at affordable prices and contributes to higher levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, according to the USDA.

There are 23.5 million Americans living in a “food desert,” according to the USDA, and 13.5 million are designated low income.

All of that changes, though, after a new Grocery Outlet opened its doors Thursday morning at 2630 Bayshore Blvd.

With 200 locations in five states including California, Grocery Outlet describes itself as an extreme value retailer offering prices up to 50 percent off conventional retail prices.

A soft opening took place Thursday morning while a grand opening complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony will take place Saturday May 3 at 9 a.m.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will be on hand for the event along with the location’s owner and operator’s Derek and Gina Navarro.

Together, the Navarros have years of grocery retail experience and live in the community.

The event is hosted by the Invest in Neighborhoods program and includes food and drinks, face painting and prizes including a Vizio TV, Apple iPad 2 Tablet and free groceries for a year.

The building housing the new Grocery Outlet was first designed as a Safeway and went on to house the A. Silvestri Co., a stonework and statuary company.

The last supermarket near Visitacion Valley community was a Fresh & Easy, which didn’t accept food stamps and didn’t carry ethnic foods. It closed its door after three years.