Outside the yoga studio door: Food desert turned oasis, but does anyone know it’s here?

I went to a new grocery store today and was absolutely giddy walking through it.

ValuLand on Mt. Hope in south Lansing.
ValuLand on Mt. Hope in south Lansing.

It wasn’t that I was finding gourmet items or free range organic sustainable anything.

It was that it was full of good and whole foods. The prices were excellent. The store was clean. And it’s within walking distance!

The Valu Land on Mt. Hope provides a fertile oasis of accessible fresh vegetables, fruits and produce in what was an urban food desert. Click here for a U.S. food desert map.


“Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.” — USDA


The red dot is the yoga studio. We are surrounded by low income and low access.
The red dot is the yoga studio. We are surrounded by low income and low access.

The store opened last July after the community expressed a need for a grocery store in that area.

I counted at last 6 convenience/liquor stores between the Valu Land and the yoga studio. Every day I watch the steady stream of foot traffic to those stores to get bread, milk, prepared food like fried chicken and tacos, chips, booze, you name it. I cry a little when I see my neighbors doing their family shopping in these places.IMG_4548

They are using their debit cards, their little bit of cash and their EBT cards.

The price they are paying is marked up sometimes three or four times, and let’s not even go into the nutritional quality of what they’re getting at these mini marts.

Take a tour inside the ValuLand in this photo gallery:

So as I was walking through the aisles in amazement at the deals and the quality of what they have, I wondered how we get more people in our neighborhoods to take the trip across MLK to this store? What might be the drawbacks? And what incentives might we need to create?

1) Location.

Much of the community around the yoga studio is lower income. Between Cedar and MLK there’s pockets of revitalization surrounded by blight, disrepair and surviving day-to-day.

The Valu Land on Mt. Hope is 1.61 miles from the studio (according to Google maps).

Walking would take 30 minutes (in good weather).

If you had a car it’s a little easier but that’s a high-priced commodity.cata

Many in this hood would be walking or biking or riding the bus.

The Number 2 runs north-south on S. Washington, a straight shot to the Kroger on Holmes and MLK. (1.8 miles away from the studio).

To get to the Valu Land you would have to catch the No. 2 to the CATA bus station downtown and wait for the No. 11 that takes you to Colonial Village. The closest this 17 minute bus ride will take you to the Valu Land is near Pleasant Grove coming from the west. Then you’d have to walk about a quarter mile to the store. (A reader just notified me the route now goes in front of Valu Land and no longer turns down Pleasant Grove. I got the route info from the CATA website which apparently isn’t up to date. Good to know the bus does go all the way to the store though.)

Yeah, it would be better to walk but then you can’t carry a lot. Dilemma, but something worth looking into fixing.

2) Who knows what it is?

ValuLand. The name sounds like a discount store. Not very inviting. Name brand recognition is the name of the game, as well as accessibility.

I admit I had my own reservations about going there. Something about the white and blue logo looking like cheap generic brands to me.

I grew up thinking generics tasted bad and were "pretenders" of the real deal.
I grew up thinking generics tasted bad and were “pretenders” of the real deal.

But walking into the store, I got over it. Quickly!

3) Will they have what I want?

Oh my GOD! So much name brand products and so much healthy whole produce!

This store is jam packed. If you need it, they got it (except refills for my Venus shaver, but I quibble)

4) How will the prices compare to (fill-in-the-blank name of favorite store)?

They accept coupons.

They have 10 for $10 for a lot of things.

You can feed a family of four or six or 10 easily on a tight budget.

5) Why should I care?

I’m looking back on this post and realizing I’m sounding like a shill for Valu Land (aka Spartan Stores). I’m being a shill for access. Access to make it on a thin dollar. Access to healthy and nutritious food. This access helps us firm up the sandy soil underneath each step we take so we can make some progress in this community development journey.

We should care because it’s a stone’s throw away and I barely saw any traffic to it. The parking lot Kroger was almost full the same time of day and they have road construction at that intersection! And it’s farther away!

It would be sad to have this new positive development not succeed.

Drive up and down MLK or Cedar and tell me what new exciting thing is going on? Where are the signs of new life and hope?

6) What can I do?

Go to the store and see for yourself.

Take some fliers and share with your neighbors.

Tell your neighbors or offer to give them a ride.

Ask for a new bus route.

Call Kathie Dunbar, executive director of the South Lansing Community Development Association, and ask her how you can help spread the word and get people who need food security to come to this store.


Yoga is not just about you or your body on your mat. It’s connecting, it’s mindful engagement and awareness. From how we treat our bodies, to what we eat, to how we treat one another, yoga creates union and community.


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