Sterling Farms is changing the way that New Orleans area residents are making groceries.
Many people in Louisiana and across the country have extremely limited access to healthy food. Areas without access to fresh food are often designated “food deserts.” People who live in these areas, especially those without their own transportation, have a difficult time buying fresh fruits, vegetables, and other staples which are essential to a healthy diet. With no grocery store within miles, often these communities are left with one option: corner-store packaged goods, fast food, and other ‘foods’ that are often high in preservatives, processed ingredients, sodium, sugar, and fat. Nothing that is too appealing to the human body.
Enter stage right: Sterling Farms, started recently by New Orleans hometown hero Wendell Pierce and two business partners, Troy Henry and Jim Hatchett. Over the course of the last year and a half, the trio has worked diligently on the business plan to ensure the achievement of their business objectives, financial sustainability and a positive impact on the communities surrounding their stores. Using food desert maps provided by the USDA and local municipalities, they went to work choosing the first location. During my conversation with Mr. Pierce, he explained that in short, they see Sterling Farms as “an opportunity to do well, and do good.” It appears the community agrees with them – only 65 days after opening their first location and already they’ve received a huge positive response from the families and individuals in the neighborhood who are now shopping there.
The current location of the new grocery store, located at 5969 Lapalco Blvd in Marrero, Louisiana is the first of four stores that will serve residents who have limited access to healthy food choices. Not only are they serving the needs of people who don’t have access to a grocery store in their community, Sterling Farms is taking it one step further. They have established a service which provides a ride home to their customers who don’t have personal transportation and who have purchased over $50 in groceries.
“Before you do anything, you’ve got to give people a choice, that’s what I feel most proud of. Aisle 1 is the most important aisle in our store – our produce aisle. We’re giving people an opportunity to make healthy choices, not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re simply bringing quality fresh foods to their community.”
Sterling Farms is firing on all cylinders and they are just getting started. The grocery store has created approximately 50 jobs, and they plan on opening three more locations in the next 18-24 months. The company also owns and operates three convenience stores with similar missions, aiming to include healthy options in their product line instead of the usual candy and soda. The convenience stores also create jobs, approximately 10 jobs for each store, for a total of 80 jobs already created by the company which is only 1.5 years old. With three more grocery stores in their sights, and one more convenience store, that will be a total of approximately 240 jobs created by Sterling Farms. Mr. Pierce enjoyed comparing Sterling Farms to GE, which recently invested in the New Orleans area, creating 300 jobs. Sterling Farms is right behind them as they continue to grow – not too shabby considering the company is playing on the same field as one of the largest corporations in the world when it comes to job creation. Not to mention that access to healthy food is also increasing throughout southeast Louisiana as a result of their work.
When I asked about the long-term plans for Sterling Farms, Mr. Pierce said that the Lower 9th Ward is the ultimate vision because he knows the community well and there is a high demand for a quality grocer in the neighborhood. “Now that I’m in the business, I’d like to answer that call,” he stated. And it appears he is perfectly positioned to do so.
If you’d like more information on what Wendell Pierce is up to these days, you can see him in the upcoming feature films “Elsa and Fred and Four,” and the TV series “The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Treme.” Also be sure to listen to Wendell Pierce narrate a walking tour of the Treme neighborhood as part of the walking tour series for the GoNOLA mobile app.
Thomas Rush is an entrepreneur and writer living in New Orleans in several capacities. He currently serves as the Proprietor of Few and Far Company, an online retailer for adventurous gentlemen, and COO of Yvelise Limoncello.