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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A convenience store may not be the first place you think of to buy groceries, but for some areas it's becoming one of the better options in the state.

The Wellness Coalition, working under a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control, began placing fruits and vegetables in convenience stores located in "food deserts" within central Alabama. A food desert, as defined by the USDA, refers to "urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food."

In October, the Wellness Coalition teamed up with both the Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission and EAT South to provide healthy cooking demonstrations to offer tips on how to prepare meals with the fruits and vegetables.

"It's someone who's not a professional chef, but has cooking experience, demonstrating how to use fresh fruits and vegetables found in a convenience store," said Sara Byard, REACH program coordinator with the Wellness Coalition. "They use very simple recipes with minimal number of ingredients that can all pretty much be found in that store. The idea is to demonstrate how regular people can eat healthier using the items you can find right there in the store."

The cooking demonstrations first took place in October and have started again this month. This week they will be offered at a Petro Mart in Montgomery and a Shell store in Notasulga.

"We chose to do this in a convenience store because those are existing outlets where people get food and they are the closest outlets that exist already that we can work with," Byard said. "Getting a grocery store is not the easiest thing to do and the cities have been trying for a while now."

As far as the overall program, Byard said they have seen positive results.

"We have done surveys of customers and it has largely shown they are interested in having produce sold in stores," Byard said. "We also asked them if they would like to continue to see stores offer (cooking demonstrations), and they overwhelmingly said yes."

The results from this program will help determine whether others will be implemented in other areas in the future.


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser,

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