When Demetrius Hunter looks around his community, he sees a lot of fast food and convenience stores. He is on a mission to change that.
Hunter is program director for Grocers on Wheels, a non-profit initiative that works to decrease rural and urban community’s food insecurity. The initiative provides a mobile market to areas in Southeast Raleigh, Wake and Durham counties in areas that are considered food deserts.
The initiative visits properties, businesses, organizations and senior communities by invitation and set appointments by property managers or home owners.
“Our mission is to provide affordable, accessible, fresh foods and healthy baked goods to low-income areas and we are doing this every week with delivery of fresh local foods, obtained directly from North Carolina farmers and others, to low-income communities experiencing food insecurities,” Hunter said. The service accepts mobile EBT/SNAP food stamps, debit cards, credit cards and cash.
The legacy of Grocers On Wheels was started by Demetrius’s father, Zelb Hunter, in Johnston County. As a young man Zelb watched his father farm the land. As he became an adult, Zelb Hunter decided to grow a garden on his own and began to sell the produce he harvested in the city of Raleigh.
“My dad began to offer produce from his garden during the Great Depression by mule and cart. They started the mobile market and delivered primarily to senior citizens,” said Demetrius Hunter. “He did this until 2008, dedicating his life to providing fresh produce to underserved communities. The only time he didn’t was the four years he served in World War II. In high school and after high school I would help my dad. I remember how excited people would get when he would arrive. When dad retired, I took over and continued the mission.”
Hunter has expanded on his father’s legacy. He currently operates the Black Farmer’s Hub in Southeast Raleigh which is opened daily and provides fresh produce, meats and specialty products. “We currently work with nine Black farmers and about 15 to 20 Black specialty product producers,” Hunter said. “The store provides us an outlet to support Black business owners as well as offer nutritious and healthy products to an underserved area.”
The pandemic offered a growing challenge to the mobile grocer, as the food crisis expanded so did the customer base. “A lot of our community worked in retail, restaurant and hospitality,” Hunter said. “When these businesses shut down people needed food and they needed it right away. The Black Farmers Hub also had its grand opening in the middle of the pandemic.
“We have had hits and misses with the business, in particular when Covid cases would rise. But we offer a business that provides fresh and nutritious- and a mindset that we want our community not only well fed but educated on how to be healthier,” he said. “Fast food and convenience stores usually offer food that is highly processed and lacking nutrition. We want to offer our community the choices they need to be healthy.”
Recently, Hunter’s vision for healthy communities has led him to rural Warren County. Grocers on Wheels has been setting up it’s mobile market to provide fresh produce and specialty products in a county that is currently served by only one grocery store.
The market sets up on Soul City Farm, owned and operated by LaTonya Andrews, a fourth-generation farmer and Air Force Veteran. Andrews is also Hunter’s wife and shares his mission to provide healthy and local produce to underserved communities.
“We are hoping in the next six months to a year to open up a grocery store in Warren County. We will continue with our Black Farmers Hub in Raleigh as well. Now that we are in the Northern part of the state we are meeting quite a bit more farmers as well, which will help serve both our urban location in Raleigh and our rural community in Warren County”