In 2014, a group of students and faculty at the University of St. Thomas started a self-sustaining program called Brightside Produce, with the goal of bringing fresh, healthy produce to low-income neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Rochester native Nicole Herrli worked with the program for three years as a business manager. Recently graduated from St. Thomas with a degree in biochemistry, Herrli wants to expand the Brightside coverage area to provide affordable produce in other communities.
The Post Bulletin sat down with Herrli to ask a few questions about Brightside and her hope to someday implement the service in Rochester.
What is Brightside Produce?
It’s kind of the middleman between large wholesale distributors and smaller corner stores in lower-income neighborhoods that have pop, chips, stuff like that. Those lower-income corner stores can’t afford to pay for wholesale produce because of the minimum order costs.
So we (Brightside Produce) basically go to the wholesaler, buy $100 of produce and sell it to lower-income corner stores all over north and south Minneapolis. I think we have 24 stores in Minneapolis, and they buy whatever they can afford and can stock on their shelves, sell it for whatever they want, and then the rest we sell in bundles kind of like farmers market style to faculty and staff at our school and other community members. That price is increased 30 percent so it covers the entire order cost. It’s a sustainable operation to get healthy produce in lower-income communities where there isn’t any.
What is your role with Brightside?
I’m the business manager, so I order the produce every week. I see how the store sales are going and kind of figure out what’s selling, what’s not selling and create an order from that. Then I send it in to the distributor and coordinate the purchase.
Also, last summer we had a farm stand project that I ran. That’s basically the same premise as Brightside, but we incorporate locally grown produce. We actually set up farm stands right in front of the lower-income corner stores, so it’s like two tables worth of fresh and affordable produce that people can buy for really cheap.
You mentioned you’d like to bring Brightside to Rochester. What would it take to do that?
We’d need a produce distributor for one. We’d also need some kind of community network, which I think would be very easy to do. We could have a drop-off at Mayo Clinic or church drop-off for the people who would buy the leftovers that didn’t sell to stores. I think building the community that would buy the leftovers would be easy to do.
And then we also like to incorporate lower-income youth, so they come and volunteer. It works really well at our school to have university students volunteering and working with it, too, so that would be something we would probably need, some kind of volunteer or hopefully in the future even paid people, for sure.
Basically any city that’s growing or is big already has lower-income communities that could use the produce. Typically, they’re going to have “food deserts,” which are areas that are a mile or more away from a full-service grocery story. Any area like that could be serviced by Brightside Produce.
What do you feel is the best part of the Brightside program?
It bridges communities, the higher-income communities and then the lower-income communities. It just bridges them, and then you get to work with those youth. It’s a really cool project. When I first heard about it, I was like, ‘I’ve got to check this out,’ and then I was hooked. If I could do either of them (Brightside or farm stands) in Rochester somehow, I totally would.