Rural Food Retail

Program Details

Rural food access is a complex problem. Disinvestment in rural areas over the past several decades has resulted in population losses and the decline of food and retail businesses. Rural food retailers have struggled to stay open as economic conditions have increased the miles people are traveling to work and shifted shopping habits away from community stores and towards regional shopping centers. Rural residents as a result are often miles from the nearest source of fresh, healthy food. As rural food retailers close there are also impacts on the local economy and employment and one less place for residents to interact with their neighbors and friends.

Rural areas possess several important assets, including being populated by the people who are growing, raising, and supplying our food. Sharing best practices and connecting local economic and community development officials, funders, community leaders, and legislators to leaders in the field of rural food access is important for developing solutions.

Communities across the country have attempted to promote rural food access and stop the closure of rural food retail in a variety of innovative ways including: 

  • Non-profit, local government, and school owned and operated stores
  • Worker and consumer cooperatives
  • Funding and other incentives for independent operators to open or remain in business
  • Utilizing rural retail as a community kitchen and food hub 
  • Exploring state investment in rural retail distribution 

Our Rural Food Retail Project will develop an engaged learning community consisting of local and regional economic development directors, local and regional planning and community development officials, foundation officers, university representatives, rural food retail operators, and other food system and community development professionals. We will host a series of webinars beginning in 2021 exploring topics such as (a) possibilities and challenges of opening and operating cooperative, non-profit, and other alternative ownership model stores, (b) rural food retail funding sources, (c) understanding rural food access as a community service, and (d) state investment and other public policies that can increase the viability of rural food retail. Our goal is to develop an assessment of the rural food retail environment in South Central New York and produce a final report detailing lessons learned and policy opportunities available.

Contact Community Food Coordinator Tom Lewis at or (607)-692-7669 if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

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