Guest Blog: Hunting and Gathering in the ‘Wood

August 26, 2015   Tags:

Note: This piece originally appeared in The Nicholas Chronicle. It is reprinted here with permission from the author, Susan Johnson.  

Last December, Foodland abruptly closed down its Richwood grocery putting twenty or so folks out of work weeks before Christmas and leaving residents with no place to buy fresh meats and produce. Nine months later, Richwooders–like all good “wood”land creatures–have learned to adapt. Hunting and gathering to put a meal on the table has become a challenge, but out of challenge is born invention.

For me, shopping is like it was a hundred years ago. First, I visit the butcher shop—U-Save’s Day Gohill first brought in meat from his now-closed Nettie IGA; now he is selling Jackson’s meats—high-quality butchered beef and pork. The girls at U-Save will slice fresh deli meat and cheese as well. Vickie’s Market is also selling meat from A.F. Wendling in Buckhannon. I sometimes stop at Go-Mart for fried chicken. Deli employee Donna Harris, who used to work at the Oakford Avenue location, said business from walkers fell of quite a bit when Go-Mart moved to Dain. “I don’t drive,” she said, “so it’s really hard to get some things in town.” She rides with a friend to Wal-mart about once a week for essentials.

Deli employee Donna Harris, who used to work at the Oakford Avenue location, said business from walkers fell of quite a bit when Go-Mart moved to Dain. “I don’t drive,” she said, “so it’s really hard to get some things in town.” She rides with a friend to Wal-mart about once a week for essentials.

Next, I go to the greengrocer. Bruce Donaldson, who knows a little about capitalism, has a wonderful fruit and vegetable market where Pearl Starcher, Becky Bailey or Stacy Shafer will point out the best tomatoes and peaches. A lazy cat named “Purr” might be curled up in front of the onion bin; just step over her. His produce comes on Tuesdays and Fridays: corn, tomatoes, onions, green beans, squash, lettuce, cabbage, peppers, peaches, lemons, limes, celery, carrots, avocados, asparagus—you name it. Bruce also sells hand-ground corn meal, molasses, Amish butter, bacon, honey and a wonderful variety of jellies and pickled items. Bruce and Melissa responded quickly to the need for produce in Richwood when he brought in fresh items last winter to his outfitter’s store in Dain.

Next stop: the “dry goods store,” Dollar General. According to store manager Cindy Louden at DG, their big truck runs on Fridays, but various venders bring in the frozen foods, dairy, breads, and other items. “We never know when they’re coming,” she lamented. “They need to come more often.” Sometimes I can find frozen shrimp and Tyson’s chicken in the bag at DG or Curly’s pulled pork barbecue, which is better than I can make. They also have milk, eggs, bacon, sausage, ice cream, frozen foods, breads, wine and beer. If you hit DG on a good day, there’s hardly a thing you won’t be able to find to put together a decent meal.

According to [Dollar General] store manager Cindy Louden, their big truck runs on Fridays, but various venders bring in the frozen foods, dairy, breads, and other items. “We never know when they’re coming,” she lamented. “They need to come more often.”

What DG and the others lack in sophistication, the peddler (Schwan’s Frozen Foods) has. He comes every other Thursday, and I can purchase wild caught salmon or pork tenderloin or gourmet ice cream. If you set up an online account, you save 5%, all of which goes to the friendly guys who drive the trucks. They tell me Schwan’s business has exploded since the grocery closed. Village Mart has an eclectic wine selection and great homemade biscuits. So I’ve survived without Foodland and have been able to avoid Wal-mart for the most part. (I only go there when I want to see Richwood people.)

Survival hasn’t been so easy for everyone. Richwood has many walkers—people, many elderly, who have no means of transportation. For them, even the trip to Donaldson’s produce shop is out of the question. Bessie Rice, a gentle soul in her 80s who walks to DG almost daily, says she’s just learned to “do without” fresh fruits and vegetables. “About every three weeks I ride the [MTA] bus to Wal-mart, but it leaves at 8:30 and picks us up at 10:00 a.m.,” she said. “That’s not enough time to get all my shopping done, and I don’t want to stay there til 3:00.” She’s asked them to accommodate the Richwood shoppers, but they told her there weren’t enough people to justify another run.

Survival hasn’t been so easy for everyone. Richwood has many walkers—people, many elderly, who have no means of transportation. For them, even the trip to Donaldson’s produce shop is out of the question. Bessie Rice, a gentle soul in her 80s who walks to DG almost daily, says she’s just learned to “do without” fresh fruits and vegetables.

Bessie said the Food and Clothing Pantry has fresh produce from time to time. So I talked with pantry director Barbie Radcliff who confirmed that she started a “farmer’s market” inside the pantry on August 1. The market sells corn, cucumbers, peppers, squash, tomatoes, etc. from local growers and bananas, oranges, apples, head lettuce from Crook’s in Beckley; it is open to the public, and the items are for sale. [Editor’s note: The Richwood Food Pantry accepts SNAP/EBT] “We still need donations,” she said since they have to purchase food for their clients. About 40 people a week from town come to the pantry for meals and groceries, according to Barbie. “We’re open Monday through Thursday from 9 to 3 and Friday from 12 to 6,” she said.

Food service providers also have a tough time. Frank Dawson, who manages the Moose kitchen, has had to find other suppliers of steaks. “We might have to raise prices,” he said. Judy Davis, who cooks at the Senior Citizens Center, said it was a big adjustment when Foodland closed. “I would shop daily at Foodland for bread and produce. Now I have to go to Foodland in Craigsville once or maybe twice a week. It’s been a challenge.” She said the seniors who frequent the center on School Street have sort of “banded together” to help each other out. “They’ll say, ‘Can I take you to the store or can I pick something up for you?’”

“I would shop daily at Foodland for bread and produce. Now I have to go to Foodland in Craigsville once or maybe twice a week. It’s been a challenge.” She said the seniors who frequent the center on School Street have sort of “banded together” to help each other out. “They’ll say, ‘Can I take you to the store or can I pick something up for you?’”

Many small rural communities are losing their full-service groceries. It’s a national crisis, one that has coined a new term “food deserts.” The problem is worse in states with sparser population areas like Iowa and Kansas, according to David Procter’s article “The Rural Grocery Crisis” in the Daily Yonder. They have been gobbled up by the mega-stores—great if you can get to them. Rumors of a full-service grocery are still swirling, but until then, more community and church leaders like Judy Davis and Bruce Donaldson and Barbie Radcliff need to respond to the needs of the poor and elderly. Bottom line: we locals need to support local businesses. Every trip to Wal-mart is another nail in the coffin of small town business.

Meanwhile, we are soldiering on here in Richwood. None of us is going hungry.

 

Photo by Youngamerican, posted under the Creative Commons License.

Photo by Youngamerican, posted under the Creative Commons License.