The Future of Food: This KC Nonprofit’s Innovative Model is Bringing Fresh Food to Black Neighborhoods

Over 400,000 Kansas Citians live without access to healthy, affordable food. This current food crisis stems from the legacy of redlining, systemic racism, and segregation, which has resulted in thousands of low-income, Black people experiencing severe food insecurity.

Such a deep-rooted issue might seem unsolvable without millions to spend or city-sponsored programs, but one Kansas City-based nonprofit has come up with an innovative, community-centered approach to empowering people impacted by food insecurity.

Check out your local convenience store, gas station, or corner bodega for the Kanbe’s Markets fridge, a three-tiered cooler lined with a colorful display of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Kanbe’s Markets fresh fruits and vegetables on display in their cooler/fridge

At first glance, it might not look like your typical grocery service. But Kanbe’s selection of produce located in accessible corner stores is based on a mission to give the community affordable fresh foods and healthy ways of living.

Founded in 2017, Kanbe’s is a nonprofit organization that partners with small businesses and local organizations to provide the Kansas City community with low-cost alternatives to quality produce. Since 2017, the organization has grown to 43 locations all over the eastside of the city.

Kanbe’s partnerships with small businesses, which they call “Healthy Corner Stores,” plug into areas where people are impacted by food insecurity. But Kanbe’s partnerships extend beyond the Healthy Corner Stores. “For those unable to make it to our Healthy Corner Store locations,” their website states, “we now deliver directly to homes in need.” In this way, Kanbe’s mission to increase food accessibility also promotes small businesses and builds relationships with community members. 

During the recent grand opening of a Healthy Corner Store at Ann’s Family Mini Market located on 2255 E 12th St, Kanbe’s Community Engagement Coordinator Jamie Placht explains: 

“It’s more than food…We show up. We go to neighborhood meetings. We go around to all the businesses and try to raise awareness. We do the canvassing work and the grassroots work that I think a lot of places aren’t willing to do. We listen first. Our community voice is everything. If we’re putting something in the community that the community doesn’t want, what’s the point?”

Ann’s Family Mini Market, located on 2255 E 12th St

Ann’s Family Mini Market is the first partner location that is Black woman owned. The owner, Tony Adams, known affectionately by the community as Ms. Tony, explains the importance of the opening:

“I just think it’s a great thing and I hope it’ll bring more people in and more people are exposed. I have people all the time that come in and want [fresh fruits]. You know people are trying to eat healthier..The more things we have, the better it is for the community.”

Tony Adams, Owner of Ann’s Family Mini Market

At Kanbe’s, the mission to stay connected with the community is carried out behind the scenes. Even though Kanbe’s headquarters are located in a large warehouse, the location is welcoming to all types of community members, including small restaurant owners and volunteers.

Kanbe’s trucks sit outside the warehouse facility

Kanbe’s eco-friendly approach also helps build relationships. Depending on whether food contains blemishes or is outdated, whatever is not used is either composted or donated to local organizations like the Kansas City Zoo.

Community Engagement Coordinator Jay Jones describes Kanbe’s as more than an organization, but a food justice movement connecting the broader Kansas City community (especially Black folks) to healthy food and one another. 

Jones puts it this way: “Food gives access to our community…We live in an area where there’s food deserts and Kanbe’s is trying to be that bridge for the community and provide healthy options.”

To Jones, the mission at Kanbe’s is personal: 

“Diabetes runs in my family, and we can make a preventative measure by just eating right and trying to stay healthy. So me working here at Kanbe’s if I can promote healthy eating and access, maybe I could save someone else’s grandmother who may have a diabetes issue, high blood pressure, things like that.”

Community Engagement Coordinator, Jay Jones, stands next to a map displaying all of Kanbe’s locations around the city

Jones’ experience is like many throughout the Black community who, due to racism, are predisposed to harmful health conditions.

Despite the sobering reality that no single organization can solve such a complex issue like food insecurity, Kanbe’s commitment to bettering the community is an inspiring reminder that Kansas City can grow toward cultivating an equitable future of food.

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