Rural Challenges: What Can Be Done To Help Rural Grocery Stores And Food Distribution to Small Towns?

There are a number of challenges facing rural North Dakota. Over a series of upcoming posts on ND xPlains, I’d like to highlight some of those challenges including what may help mitigate some of the issues. The closing of rural grocery stores has caught the attention of lawmakers. It is not only a food policy but economic policy. What – if anything – can be done to make sure small towns have an essential food supply?

The foundation of the interim study lawmakers narrowly accepted was built by the work of the Rural Development Director of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC) Lori Capouch. Capouch’s testimony lays out the financial distress small town grocery stores are facing. “Low sales volumes lead to low profit margins.” Because the volume is too low, it is difficult to get suppliers of particular products. Low profit margins make it difficult for necessary maintenance and attractiveness for a potential local buyer.

LISTEN TO LORI CAPOUCH ON “AFTERNOONS LIVE WITH TYLER AXNESS”

The loss of a grocery store and reliable food supply impacts the livability of small towns. Period. Families often choose to live where there are essentials that are affordable. Without young families, the schools are impacted, the local tax share diminished for infrastructure, and the overall economy of the small town can become distressed. It is part of what leads to people moving to the hub cities in ND.

Capouch made it clear in her interview on my KFGO show advocates for the study are wanting to look at the distribution of food in particular. Yet other’s bemoan the discussion outright. They think narrowly about government subsidies. It is ironic the same people and politicians who claim to uphold small town values and character are often the same people advocating for positions that are leading to the demise of small towns. The bottom line is, the rural economy is struggling. These individuals would rather we look the other way.

LISTEN: ARE SMALL TOWN GROCERY STORES SAVABLE?

RELATED: RURAL CHALLENGES: COULD STATE INSURANCE BENEFIT HELP RECRUIT RURAL RESPONDERS?

The truth is, the state and federal government are already involved in economic development for rural ND. For example, ND and primarily the federal government helped with the distribution of telecommunications in rural areas. I wonder if these same politicos outraged about the thought of studying the distribution of essential food to rural ND scoffed at the government aid that helped distribute the internet you’re reading this article on?

Lastly, where is Governor Doug Burgum? He campaigned on what he called the “Main Street Initiative.” Vibrant downtowns and walkability are his PowerPoint bullet points. Can anyone point to a success of this initiative in rural ND? What good is walkability if there isn’t a grocery store to walk to? This study has the potential to produce real outcomes on rural economic development. Why then, is Burgum refusing to even meet with the experts on the topic he publicly claims to care about?

This is a good study that warrants our attention. Those in the Legislature that pushed it forward made the right decision. NDx will be following it closely throughout the interim.

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