A legislative committee on food deserts met for the first time Monday to discuss how North Carolina can improve access to affordable, healthy food.
The study committee grew out of a bill introduced by Rep. Yvonne Holley (D-Wake) during the last legislative session to provide tax incentives to businesses that make healthy foods available in food desert zones.
The bill, co-sponsored by Republican Majority leader Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell), was inspired by the loss of two grocery stores in Southeast Raleigh.
Via North Carolina Health News:
Holley said one of the stores was surrounded by low-income housing and homes for the elderly, who had no other way to get to food.
But the issue quickly grew beyond her abilities as a freshman legislator to get it passed.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, and [the bill] just got bigger and bigger,” she said. “By the end of the session, I needed a full-time person in my office just to handle all of the food desert inquiries.”
NC Health News – Diverse group looks to tackle issue of N.C. food access
North Carolina is the sixth most food-insecure state in the country. Indy Week has more on the numbers:
The most recent figure from 2011 puts food insecurity in the state at 19.3 percent. Sadaf Knight, policy and research director at The Support Center—a nonprofit that provides loans and support to small businesses and community-based organizations—says an average of 17 percent of North Carolinians have experienced food insecurity between 2000 and 2012. Traditionally, the term “food desert” refers to a community that does not have access to healthy food retailers; members of such a community must travel elsewhere to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, for example. The USDA recently adjusted how it defines a food desert, according to Knight, adding variables like vehicle access and distances to supermarkets so that communities can view the issue of food access from different standpoints.
One way of measuring food access is using census tracts—small subdivisions of counties used for the U.S. Census— that are low income, where no supermarkets are within one mile in urban areas and within 10 miles in rural areas.
Using this definition, there are 349 low-income, low-access census tracts in North Carolina, Knight says. These tracts can be found in 80 of the 100 counties in the state; 31 of these counties are designated Tier 1—among North Carolina’s most economically distressed— by the state’s Department of Commerce for 2014.
IndyWeek – N.C. food insecurity is rising
The next committee meeting will take place Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building.