Store offers fresh produce in 'food desert'

September 25, 2009 Now, one woman is trying to change that with help from the youth in her community.

The bright colors of fresh produce are a rare sight some neighborhoods. It's no wonder they are compelling drivers who exit the Dan Ryan expressway near 59th Street to stop and shop.

"The space happens to be between what is called food deserts, two so-called food deserts: Englewood and Washington Park. So actually we're in an ideal location to really deliver our message of healthy food and particularly increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables," said Ladonna Redmond, co-owner, Graffiti and Grub.

A dearth of grocery stores in the area helped motivate Redmond to create an outlet to distribute organic produce. She calls her small store Graffiti and Grub. She and her business partner are training and motivating young adults to lead the effort in the community.

"What I tell the young men particularly is that it's my job to make sure they feel the connection with getting out there and begin to create opportunities for themselves," said Wil Seegars, co-owner, Graffiti and Grub.

Young people sell the produce. They also helped turn a nearby vacant lot into a garden with the Washington Park Homeowners Association.

"This was our attempt to try to empower ourselves by growing vegetables and fruits ourselves," said Pasha Hunt-Golliday, Washington Park and Area Homeowners Association.

The goal is for the garden to supply food for sale at the store, while the youth learn the business from farm to fork. They say the experience is even influencing their personal habits.

"It was a great experience because I learned a lot about planting and watching my calories 'cause I was eating a lot of unhealthy foods," said Mamie Williams, 19.

"When I've been introduced to how eating healthy is not only good for you, it's also good food so it's just enlightened me a lot and changed the way I've eaten," said Gregory Selmon, 19.

The owners of Graffiti and Grub hope they'll be able to educate shoppers about how best to manage their diets with conditions like diabetes and hypertension which are common in their community.

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