Despite a push from the federal government to encourage grocery store chains to expand into areas labeled food deserts, the AP finds most have chosen to avoid high-poverty areas:
As part of Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiative, a group of major food retailers promised in 2011 to open or expand 1,500 grocery or convenience stores in and around neighborhoods with no supermarkets by 2016. By their own count, they’re far short.
Moreover, an analysis of federal food stamp data by The Associated Press reveals that the nation’s largest chains — not just the handful involved in the first lady’s group — have since built new supermarkets in only a fraction of the neighborhoods where they’re needed most.
The AP reports that of the 2,434 grocery stores opened by 75 leading food retailers from 2011 through the first quarter of 2015, only 230 were located in regions deemed food deserts. Read more here.
In North Carolina there’s a push to see how farmers markets can meet the needs of those living far from fresh, affordable food. North Carolina Health News reports that lack of transportation can be a major factor in limiting access:
According to Ruth Petersen of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, a number of programs – such as the Women, Infants and Children program, which helps pregnant women and mothers of young children get access to healthy food – coordinate to increase access to nutritious food.
But she described a pilot program where families were given a once-a-year $24 voucher for farmers’ markets, and many of the vouchers went unused.
“The biggest barrier was transportation,” Petersen said. She explained that many issues around food access are intertwined; perhaps a mother could buy milk at a gas station or convenience store, but it might be more expensive than at a supermarket several miles away, using up more of her WIC benefits.
Petersen said that her division has used money from community-transformation grants provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase the number of mobile farmers’ markets and farm stands, encourage participation, in community-supported agriculture and enhance farmers’ market access, especially in low-income areas of the state.
Read more on the intersection of food deserts and farmers markets here.
In Davidson County, one community group has been working to remedy the lack of fresh food in the area. Grace and Cary Kanoy, founders of the Davidson County Local Food System Network were named the 2015 Activists of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association:
Grace and Cary Kanoy moved back to the family farm in Thomasville, NC in the early 2000′s. Over the past several years they have been working to make Davidson County a destination for local and sustainable food. They have joined many community groups and this past year spearheaded efforts to form a food council called the Davidson County Local Food Network. Through community meetings they are bringing together community residents and local government to begin a serious conversation about agriculture, local food and making the community a healthier place.
The group says creating food systems is vital to a healthy community, but organizers also note it’s an economic development tool as well. They aim to draw new restaurants, retail grocery stores and food entrepreneurs to the region. Read more here.
For a statewide look at how food deserts impact communities, as well as a comprehensive list of organizations working to expand access to healthy food in NC, read more here.
To find out where food deserts are located, use this interactive mapping tool from the USDA.