Do we live in a food Desert?

I read an interesting article today on the Sustainable Collective Blog that was a defense for the corner market. If you are familar with a food desert, its an area in urban areas that are not served by large grocery stores. The argument is that urban communities containing the lowest income levels inhabitants have a more difficult time getting low cost high quality food. The USDA even released a map so you can find if your neighborhood is located within one of these ‘food deserts.’

But the results of this study are misleading as they only take into account that these low income neighborhoods can only be served by large grocery stores, and that corner stores and small independent markets do not suffice. For example, looking at the city of Detroit, it has been famously stated that there are no grocery stores within the 140 square miles of the city. But closer inspection shows that the many communities within the city are served by countless corner markets and stores; many of which provide high quality produce, meats, and ethnic delights. Typically an area is labeled as a food desert if a significant number of residents are in a lower income class and a supermarket is more than 1/2 mile away.

Wausau food desert buy localCloser to home, the USDA’s food desert map shows that the east side of Wausau contains a food desert. This neighborhood, roughly stated as  north or McDonald street and south of Franklin is poorly served by a large grocery store. But the residents of these neighborhoods, myself included, can say that good food is located within a short walk, bike ride, or bus ride from where we live. Bordering on the south is the Townline Market, a corner grocery with an excellent meat counter. On the east side of the desert is Downtown Grocery, with an wide variety of organic produce, and slightly north of the zone is Quality Foods, which is located on a bus route. Our local farmer’s markets are also located adjacent to the desert.

To think that supermarkets can only address the food desert issue and not the corner grocery is facetious statement to say the least. I’ve biked to Quality Foods and seen quite a few other bikes parked at the store. Townline Market receives more than its share of walk up traffic. Food access is still a problem and there are people within the core of the desert that may find it quite difficult to find healthy, affordable food. But when we examine the entire issue, we see that options do exist and that the corner market can fill an important niche.

 

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