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Campus Engagement in Our Unit

Extension Staff Involved in Filling the Grocery Gap in Peoria

When two more grocery stores closed in 2018 in Southside and East Bluff Peoria neighborhoods, University of Illinois Extension staff joined the team of policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, and activists working to eliminate disparities in equitable access to healthy food. The process to fill the gap in access to healthy food in the City of Peoria is a challenge that is multi-faceted but began with conducting a grocery store survey. Local Extension staff with expertise in community and economic development, nutrition, and horticulture have played a role in addressing the issue and finding solutions.

Following the closure of the Kroger stores, an action group developed a series of meetings led by State Senator Dave Koehler. As a result of these meetings, participants in the Regional Fresh Food Council (RFFC) embarked upon a study to examine the impact of the closure on local residents and reveal potential factors that led to the closures.  

“Extension’s role is woven throughout the survey process,” explained Kathie Brown, Extension CED educator. “I have been involved in the survey design, implementation and analysis. Our nutrition staff helped with survey collection and my colleagues on campus completed the secondary data analysis. I worked in partnership with Greater Peoria Economic Development Council to look beyond primary and secondary data collection, for additional insights into the macro trends of the grocery industry, numerous industry websites and reports were reviewed to identify trends and highlight potential changes in the future. Together we developed recommendations with input from RFFC.”

The study findings have just been released in the report Filling the Grocery Gap in Peoria. The document is available online through the Regional Fresh Food Council and is being shared at a community meeting set for July 10 at Minority Business Development Center, Peoria. A few conclusions and recommendations include:

  • Create a network map
  • Support and incentivize small scale development
  • Conduct retention visits for food-based businesses, services, and projects
  • Biannual neighborhood reports
  • Revisit and update 2015 Local Foods Landmarks Report
  • Inclusion of a regional food systems strategy and implementation plan in the 2020 CEDS 
  • Establish a full-time Value Chain Coordinator Position

Increasing access to and consumption of fresh, healthy foods is no simple task given our complex and globalized food system.  This report is just one of the first steps. It aims to bring the local challenge of filling the grocery gap in underserved neighborhoods into focus with regional and national factors and industry trends. It also aims to provide foundational market analysis for public and private organizations and individuals inter-ested in pursuing the development of new grocery stores in Peoria’s underserved neighborhoods.  

You can access the report on the Regional Food Council website at


As a community and economic development educator, Kathie Brown worked with community leaders, government officials, volunteer groups, small business owners, and others to help communities become stronger and more economically viable. She focused on leadership and organizational development; local government education and relations; economic development strategies; participatory community planning/visioning processes; group process facilitation; collaboration and partnership building; public issue education; and understanding, using and developing data.

Prior to retirement in 2021, Brown worked with organizations and local governments to help them: (1) analyze and understand their needs, (2) identify alternative courses of action, (3) make informed decisions, (4) plan for the future and (5) evaluate their development efforts.

Kathie worked for Extension for almost 40 years, contributing to programs related to community health, digital literacy, STEAM education, and more.