In 2018 when Shop N Save closed its grocery stores, it left many North County residents without access to fresh produce and healthy food. Erica Williams is dedicated to ensuring these communities receive the attention they deserve. In 2017, she established A Red Circle, which promotes community betterment and addresses racial disparities in North County. Along with growing produce at the Healthy Flavor Community Garden and the North County Agricultural Education Center, the nonprofit is working to address food insecurity by establishing a community-owned grocery store.

What motivated you to create A Red Circle?
I’ve been a North County resident for most of my life. I live in Florissant and used to work in Clayton. In Florissant, we have restaurants, grocery stores and great entertainment options, but while driving to work, I would go through areas where disinvestment had a huge economic impact. I wanted to build the community back up from an investment standpoint. After Michael Brown Jr. was killed in 2014, I changed my trajectory from not just economic, but also racial disparities.

Why is food disparity an important issue for North County?
In some parts of the county, people don’t have access to healthy food. There are convenience and liquor stores where you can get highly processed items, but if there even is a grocery store, oftentimes, the produce and meat may not be fresh. I began to research the health impacts of nutritional deficiencies and realized how important it is that we increase access to healthy food. These food deserts also play a role in investment. Most people want to live in an area where food is easily accessible. North County residents want to see the community thrive, but it’s difficult to convince others to invest in the region.

What will be the benefits of establishing a community-owned grocery store?
Along with making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible, it will provide a place for Black farmers and other local growers to sell their produce. While working in the food space, I’ve learned there are a lot of urban farmers looking to get their food to consumers, but relying on farmers markets and pop-ups can be hard. The store also will provide jobs and bring some much needed tax revenue to the area.

What are your plans for the store?
The main feature will be fresh produce and locally made products. We plan on offering baked goods, limited dairy, locally sourced meats and dry goods. We’ll also have a demonstration garden to show people how they can grow food. We also have plans for a small bistro that offers healthy options to combat fast food, and the space also will be used for cooking demonstrations to share different ways to prepare produce and keep it healthy.

How else are you working to address food insecurity?
We have a food and justice fellowship because it’s critical that young people are empowered to continue the fight for food justice. In Missouri, you have to travel to rural areas to learn about agriculture, and that’s not possible for everyone. We provide people ages 19 to 26 the opportunity to learn about food science, the law and equity, and entrepreneurship, so they can become farmers or open a restaurant or food distribution center.

What do you hope for with A Red Circle’s fifth anniversary?
We spent two years pivoting during the pandemic, but we were still able to serve the community. This year, I hope we can elevate and amplify our mission. I want people to think about North County as a place with beauty and potential. It’s part of the St. Louis community, but it can be forgotten about. That’s why A Red Circle works so diligently to bring good things to the region. Oftentimes, racial disparities are coupled with disinvestment and a lack of opportunity, so we are trying to create that opportunity for our people.

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Photos courtesy of A Red Circle