Provisions Makes Fresh Food a Focus in Harrisburg

by Andrew Hrip

Housing over 100 kinds of bulk spices are rectangular, plastic containers with tubes on the top. They’re called inversion bins. How they work is you turn them upside-down, filling the tube with the amount of a spice you need. Unscrew one end of the tube, and the other end doubles as a plunger, dispensing the spice into your own jar or bottle.

Do you only need three teaspoons of fire salt for a recipe?

You got it!

Fresh spices just happen to be one of the multitude of natural food options at newly-opened Provisions, located in downtown Harrisburg at Strawberry Square.

The front section of the store features a selection of dairy, deli and meat items as well as pantry foods like salad dressings, sauces, soups and pasta. The section also includes a variety of personal care and home cleaning items. According to co-owner, Adam Porter, the side wall in this section will feature a station where customers can purchase or bring their own empty bottles to be filled or refilled with bulk hand soaps, dish soaps or laundry detergents.

Four aisles line the middle part of the store, containing bulk rice, beans, nuts, pasta, baking supplies and trail mixes. The latter, according to Porter, “does really well with the office work population in Strawberry Square. It’s nice to just grab and nosh at your desk while you’re clunking away in the afternoon.” The section is also home to a gluten-free section and will feature nut butter grinders for almonds, peanuts and cashews.

Nestled in the back corner of the store are fresh produce items, “grab-and-go” drinks and salads, breads and other snacks.

Porter described the kind of atmosphere to be fostered at Provisions. He commented, “The goal is to get people more familiar with their food. What we aim to achieve is a shopping pattern where people come, they buy what they need when they need it, they come three or four days a week and they buy what they’re making for dinner, on a given night, on their way home from work or during their lunch hour and refrigerate it at work.”

Porter also added, “We want to try and get back to simpler foods, in terms of the actual ingredients. There is a much better life-to-be-lived when you feed yourself well; part of that is having access to it in the first place. If we can help people improve their lives, even in that small measure of what they put on the table every night, that goes a long way.”

With Provisions, Porter wants to eliminate what the USDA calls a “food desert” in the Harrisburg area, which he defined as “having to go any more than one mile for fresh food.”

He elaborated, “There are two grocery stores within the city limit, but they’re at the very edges and selection in them might be challenging. You have the Broad Street Market, but it has pretty restrictive hours. Farmers markets, by design, are generally only open 3-4 days a week, at most. They can’t always meet need. We’re trying to be as accessible as we can, in terms of location, hours, price points, etc.”

The significance of having Provisions in downtown Harrisburg is tremendous.

“We’re kind of in the middle of everything,” observed Porter. “It’s really easy to get here, whether you live within walking distance or whether you work near the Capitol, perhaps. If you have a car and you drove into town because you live in Linglestown or Camp Hill, your car is already parked, so that makes it really convenient. The bus transfer center is also very close.”

Porter also spoke about how the store is a great asset to the commuter crowd, including those who use Amtrak to go round-trip from Lancaster to Harrisburg, for example. He explained, “Maybe, they work in a high-rise here and then, stop off at the store and pick up what they want for dinner that night. Next, they get off the train and go straight home to wherever they live, rather than having to go another 20 minutes out of their way.”

Provisions was born out of a personal inconvenience Porter discussed over lunch with his partner, Shaun Donovan, one day. He recalled telling Donovan, “This is kind of crazy. I live in the city, but I have to drive 5-10 miles in any direction to go get food. Why? Let’s fix that.” Over a subsequent series of coffees and lunches, 4-5 versions of the plan for Provisions emerged before the store became a reality.

Strawberry Square was a perfect location, according to Porter, because the space was “ready-to-go” and easily accessible to surrounding residential, office and educational environments.

Porter said he hopes to add 3-4 more Provisions in Harrisburg. He stated, “Food access does not know boundaries; people everywhere need to eat.”