PROMO Shopping - Groceries Food Man Basket Store Produce Fruit Vegetable - iStock - Ridofranz

In North Dakota food desert, town gets funds for 'self-service' grocery store

© iStock - Ridofranz
Mike Moen

(Prairie News Service) In recent years, North Dakota's smaller towns have seen at least 15 percent of their grocery stores disappear. That's prompted a flurry of action, including a local solution tied to an annual grant program. 

Munich is a city of less than two hundred people in northeastern North Dakota. 

The area's development arm has been awarded a grant through AARP's Community Challenge program, because the community's lone grocery store - which is nonprofit - struggles to keep regular hours amid operational challenges. 

Steve Zimmer, a member of the Munich Area Development Corporation board, said the funds will come in handy as they look to avoid seeing their one option suffer the fate of many others.

"There's two options," said Zimmer. "It was to close the store or to try to do something different - and that's the route that we chose, using technology that we have available to us."

Zimmer said they're putting together a plan where local residents will be given electronic key access to shop whenever they want, using a self-checkout system. He said that cuts down on staffing needs and could prompt customers to come more often. 

If it works, organizers say the extra revenue would allow them to buy more healthier items to sell, and possibly start a delivery service to nearby towns.

Janelle Moos, the advocacy director for AARP North Dakota, said it's encouraging to see solutions like these take shape under the grant program.

"This was our highest-ever round of applicants," said Moos. "We had over 56 applications and obviously, we can't fund all of those. But what we know is that communities are really looking for funding to help meet the needs in their communities."

While these are intended to be quick turnaround projects, Moos said the grants can often be a springboard to long-term action. 

This year, AARP awarded six Community Challenge grants to North Dakota organizations, totaling more than $67,000.