Is WIC an Option for Corner Stores?

Ashley talks with some some people at Linden Market.

Over the summer of 2016, CLF’s Map Team interns visited every known food store in Baltimore City to collect data for the Healthy Food Availability Index (HFAI)—but they also took time to interview some of the store owners and learn about their challenges and successes. Here’s the second of those stories. 

Of the approximately 621,000 people living in Baltimore, 25 percent live in food deserts. Within the span of three months, my HFAI team visited roughly 1,000 food retail outlets in Baltimore. We went into corner stores, small groceries, supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies, visiting between 60 and 90 stores every week. Read More >

The Long Shadow of Redlining on the Food System

Last year Baltimore was shaken by an uprising that caught the nation and public officials off-guard. A good part of the conversation during the unrest revolved around issues of systemic and institutionalized racism. In response, the Johns Hopkins University started the 21st Century Cities Initiative; its first organized activity was a series of debates about “Redlining Baltimore.”

Back in the 1930s, as a part of the New Deal, a government sponsored program called the Homeowner Loan Corporation (HOLC) was created. This public agency helped the population finance home ownership through greatly subsidized loans. As part of its mission, the HOLC created maps that rated neighborhoods in terms of how the agency perceived each neighborhood’s investment risk. HOLC preferentially financed loans in neighborhoods deemed low-risk for investment. Read More >

Hoop dreams: A Baltimore community farm gets winterized

as seen from Whitelock St.

as seen from Whitelock St.

On a recent crisp October weekend, Reservoir Hill community members, friends, farmers, and two bus loads of Johns Hopkins undergraduate students gathered at the Whitelock Community Farm for a modern barn raising. The various volunteer groups, totaling close to 50 people, built an inexpensive but practical hoop house using a clear plastic roof and a PVC-pipe spine to extend the newly established farm’s growing season. Construction of the 20 foot by 30 foot hoop house was managed by Thor Nelson, an architect/planner who lives a block from the farm site, and paid for by a grant from Parks and People. The Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) chipped in Federal Stimulus money to fund materials for a shed and farm stand on the property, and coordinated the volunteer support from Johns Hopkins. Read More >

Gaining a Better Understanding of ‘Food Deserts’

Lawyer Andy Weisbecker recently posted an opinion piece in Food Safety News in which he discusses the problem of limited access to healthy food and its contribution to the burden of obesity and diet-related disease.

The term “food desert” refers to a location-generally, a low-income neighborhood-from which residents must travel twice as far as those living in wealthier neighborhoods to reach the nearest supermarket.

As Weisbecker points out, awareness is growing that people who live in food deserts face “significant obstacles to the purchase and consumption of affordable healthy food.” It is often easier for these people to purchase meals from fast food establishments and corner stores than it is for them to shop at supermarkets or large grocery stores.

While the negative health effects of fast food are generally well understood, the obstacles created by small local grocery or convenience stores are perhaps less intuitive. These establishments often lack a selection of nutritious food and are more expensive than supermarkets and large grocery stores. Even when they do offer healthier options such as fruit, vegetables and milk, these items are often of lower quality than their counterparts in large grocery stores: a study conducted in Philadelphia found higher microbial indicator counts in these items in low-income markets than in comparable items in higher-income area markets.

Results of a year-long study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture in 2008 linked distance between dwelling and supermarket, along with poor transportation, with limited access to affordable nutritious food. According to this study, food access-related problems affect almost 6 percent of all households in the United States. This translates to an estimated 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, who live in low-income neighborhoods more than a mile from a supermarket. Read More >

Maryland’s Grocery Store Tax Credit Bill Could Improve Food Deserts

Maryland House Bill 1135, the Grocery Store Property Tax Credit Bill, passed the House yesterday with 138-0 votes! The bill grants a property tax credit to grocery stores throughout the state located in low-income areas. Delegate Justin Ross, the main sponsor of the bill, represents Prince George’s County, an urban county surrounding Washington, DC. Delegate Ross clearly sees the need for attracting new and better grocery stores into low income areas, especially low income urban areas, to help provide better access to healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables (the bill stipulates that a grocery store is defined as entity where “at least 20% of the gross receipts of which are 3% derived from the retail sale of fresh produce”).

Baltimore's Food Deserts

Baltimore's Food Deserts

The lack of quality supermarkets and groceries in low income areas has been receiving much greater attention recently. And these underserved areas are being referred to as “food deserts.” While there is no strict definition of a food desert, the term generally mean areas that do not have easy access (within walking distance in cities or a reasonable driving distance in rural areas) to a supermarket, notably the most reliable and most utilized source for healthy foods. The USDA’s Economic Research Service just published an article on food deserts in their March Amber Waves magazine. The concern comes from a greater appreciation of the role access to healthy foods plays in one’s diet. It is not enough to recommend that people eat “5 a Day” and educate people about how to shop for healthy foods and prepare them. This will do little good if people don’t have access to the recommended foods. We at the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) are excited by the recent attention that the “food environment” is receiving (for a detailed examination see Policy Link study).

The issue has come to the attention of local government officials as well – in 2008 former Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon created the Baltimore Food Policy Task Force, of which CLF’s Anne Palmer was an active member. The Task Force’s report lists 10 recommendations to improve access; however, many of these recommendations have short-term impact and rely on alternative and seasonal sources for produce. People need access to healthy food year round, again which can be most reliably found at supermarkets and grocery stores. The Task Force recognized the lack of quality supermarkets in the city, but also recognized that the solution to the problem was long-term and they were tasked with looking for short-term, actionable recommendations. HB 1135 is perhaps one long-term solution to attracting the kind of supermarkets Baltimore needs (and that are needed in other low income areas in Maryland). The bill also leaves room for both large chain supermarkets and smaller grocery stores (even corner stores?!) to qualify as a “grocery” – if they can prove that their primary business is selling food at retail and that 20% of their profits come from produce. This flexibility could prove useful in finding creative solutions to food deserts, in that large, chain supermarkets may not be the answer for all locations. Read More >