Customers shop for fresh produce at Ramirez Market./ Photo by Andrew Roman
Grand reopening of Ramirez Market in East L.A./ Photo by Andrew Roman

The East Los Angeles community celebrated the grand reopening of Ramirez Market on Folsom Street and Rowan Avenue last Saturday after it was transformed from a typical corner store that offered chips and soda to a colorful provider of fresh vegetables and fruits.

With a new coat of paint and stocked with fresh produce, the newly-renovated meat market is an effort to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases amongst Latinos in East L.A. by providing more healthful options at corner stores. The project is part of the UCLA-USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities’ “Corner Store Makeover in East L.A.–Proyecto Mercado Fresco” funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“I think the [project] is very important for the community in that, it’s all about access and this is an opportunity for people to have access to the same types of fruits and vegetables that are available in other communities,” said Nathan Cheng, business consultant for University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who started the project 13 years ago.

East L.A. is considered a “food desert,” which means there is poor access to grocery stores and healthy foods for community members. In these areas, many people from young ages well into adulthood will typically shop at corner stores and develop unhealthful eating habits. As a result, Latinos in East L.A. suffer high rates of obesity and other chronic diseases.

“East L.A. is very similar to a lot communities in the United States; people weigh too much, there is too much diabetes, too much heart disease and we’ve got to change that because…[the current generation] is getting sicknesses like diabetes at really young ages,” explained Michael Prelip, Professor of Public Health at UCLA and one of the project’s lead researchers.

One fact that Professor Prelip points to is that the current generation of young people may not live as long as his, which he says will be the “first time in human history where that has happened.” With this daunting idea in mind, the project’s mission is to provide intervention and raise awareness about healthy living and eating.

Customers shop for fresh produce at Ramirez Market./ Photo by Andrew Roman

With the intention of involving the local community, UCLA “adopted” several students from the School of Communications, New Media and Technology at Roosevelt High School and East L.A. Renaissance Academy at Esteban Torres High School. The students learned about various health-related issues in the community, did social marketing and produced videos to promote corner store conversions and encourage healthier food options.

“If [healthy food] is not accessible, why not make it accessible?” asks Jessica Rodriguez, a senior at Esteban Torres High School who participated in the project, She says the abundance of corner and liquors stores “is the reason why we can walk a block and say ‘Okay, let me go buy chips.’ ”

Several participating students, including Roosevelt High School junior Diego Garcia, wore fruit and vegetable costumes for the reopening celebration. The event also featured a live mariachi band, healthy food samples, health screenings and an informational booth for community members. Garcia says the program taught him “about giving back to the community…and that people should get involved.”

Ramirez Market is the second makeover of its kind in East L.A. YASH La Casa, another nearby corner store was converted last October and has since seen a significant revenue increase. The project will continue its mission and plans to transform two more markets in the area.

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