Three million New Yorkers live too far from grocery stores, according to the city.
Experts call these areas “food deserts”.
That’s because it’s difficult for residents to find fresh groceries. And as a result, they’re more prone to health problems like diabetes and obesity.
A city program is trying to tackle the issue.
A super market in a food desert is like an oasis in real one. Sometimes, getting there and back requires an arduous journey.
FADE UP. Plastic bags, carts, and talking. Grocery.
At Food Bazaar in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, shoppers fill carts with what is easily a week’s worth of groceries.
CROSSFADE: Into parking lot
Many customers walk or drive their hauls home. But, others rely on livery cabs. A store security guard hails a mini-van for two middle-aged Hispanic women, they chat with the driver.
START FADE UP THEN DOWN ON WOMEN: THE TWO WOMEN
Then they get into the cab. Doors shut.
SOUND Of Doors
They drive away. Ricky Calhoun is the store security guard who hailed the cab. He only has to walk four blocks to get here. But he sees customers from Downtown Brooklyn and even Manhattan.
They have a lot taxis that take them over from the Lower East Side.
People who live in food deserts spend a lot of extra time and money, if they want healthy food options.
So in 2009, the city started offering tax incentives to grocers to build and improve their stores. This year, Food Bazaar’s parent company, Bogopa, will take advantage of the program to expand sections of this store creating more shelf space.
The tax incentive from this project and renovations at five of the company’s other stores could amount to as much eight hundred thousand dollars. Bogopa spokesperson Justin Shon says the stores aren’t the only beneficiaries.
It helps the community in that we’ll be able to expand our fresh offerings for that store and will be able to save with the sales tax on the equipment that we purchased.
In other words, the city program allows grocers to reduce the sales tax they pay on construction materials and new equipment. So far, the city program has awarded benefits to fifteen grocery stores. In some cases, companies built new markets, others were simply expanded. New York City is not the first to address food deserts with incentives. Federal and state programs have offered grants, credits, and loans for about a decade.
But building better grocery oases in food deserts is tricky. Even identifying which neighborhoods are food deserts is difficult because conditions can vary so widely between cities. In some, people drive everywhere, but in other cities, like New York, most rely on public transit. Some cities are sprawling, others — densely packed. Mari Gallagher is a researcher and consultant known for popularizing the term “food desert”. She says those variations make diagnosis difficult.
There’s not a perfect distance to a grocery store. So in Harlem New York for example. That’s going to be a little different than Queens. Which will be a little different than Chicago versus other parts of Chicago. Versus Detroit or Los Angeles or Savannah Georgia.
New York City’s definition of a food desert is anywhere where the nearest grocery store is more than a ten minute walk from your door.
The city tax incentive is not the only program trying to address the issue. In 2010, New York state started co-funding a grant program with a nonprofit that helped create eighty-eight new stores in Pennsylvania. Caroline Harries, works for the Philadelphia-based Food Trust, which partially funds the state program. Harries says benefits weren’t limited to food access.
These projects have worked to create and retain over 1.67 million square feet of food retail space as well as over 5,000 jobs. We estimate that the program has been able to improve access to healthy food for over half a million penn. Residents.
But grocery stores aren’t the only way to bring better food to the deserts. Public and private programs have also tried more agrarian options.
You have community gardens from these groups, and farmers markets.
Carolyn Dimitri teaches food economics at NYU. She says, on their own, none of these ideas has a big effect.
My question is is the cumulative effects of these small movements going enough to increase the amount of healthy food available in a neighborhoods. I’m not convinced it is but I don’t really see a model popping up.
By September, New York City will have one more grocery store subsidized by both the city and state programs, at the edge of one of the city’s food deserts on Staten Island. Jason Slotkin. Columbia Radio News.