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MANHATTAN, Kan. -- To help towns sustain their local food retailers, the Center for Engagement and Community Development at Kansas State University here has begun a Rural Grocery Store Sustainability Initiative, which recently received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office.
With that funding, the center and its partners, the Kansas Sampler Foundation and the Kansas Rural Center, plan to survey the nearly 200 grocers who serve towns with fewer than 2,000 residents. David Procter, the center's director, said he hopes to organize a "rural grocer summit" that will bring far-flung entrepreneurs face to face.
"We've found that these grocers are very independent," Procter said, "but they're also very unorganized, and they don't talk to one another." Procter said they face many of the same challenges: shrinking population, variable customer loyalty and high fees.
In addition to keeping a town's economy healthy, a good grocery store can prove vital to its customers' health, Procter said, citing a study that showed higher rates of heart disease and diabetes in towns whose only retail food sources are convenience stores.