Rural Action Aims To Remedy Food Deserts

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During the holiday season, food is on a lot of people's minds. But for some, access to food is what occupies their thoughts, because they live in a food desert.

"There are a lot of definitions, but I think an easy one comes out of the Farm Bill of 2008.  They defined it as an areas in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly areas composed of low income people," says Bob Fedyski. Fedyski is with Rural Action's Sustainable Agriculture Program. He works as a Local/Institutional Foods Advisor.
Fedyski says food deserts are common in urban areas, such as downtown neighborhoods that are without a grocery store.  But, that's not the only landscape blighted by food deserts — he says they're common in rural regions, too
"It's funny because you think of rural areas as the production area, and it is and if you can go to an individual farmer, you can get it, but having a concentrated source, a grocery store, something like that, we just don't have a lot of so people in the rural areas frequently fall by and stop at convenience stores which have limited food availability and most of it is either processed or some other form that's just not fresh fruits and vegetables," he says.
Fedyski says Rural Action is working to bring fresh food into local stores.  Using grant money, Rural Action is helping store owners set up refrigeration equipment, training them on food handling and nutrition and lending a hand where advertising is concerned. 
Living in an area where all you can eat is processed food only creates a ripple effect, Fedyski explained. "It's one of the reason we have such a high rate of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the area it just goes hand in hand with that. By giving people an alternative, we hope to work around that problem."
Fedyski says the project is a community effort, connecting local growers from the Chesterhill produce auction with store owners interested in selling the produce that's in-season. During months when there isn't a lot of inventory, Fedyski says Rural Action has forged other means of getting the fresh food to the store owners. "Casa Nueva is assisting us now because they've offered to do the purchasing so that we will then continue to bring it out to the stores but they are a larger purchaser, so they'll split a case so that we can get the fresh food out of season to these stores still," says Fedyski.
Fedyski says he got to see firsthand at a local store that the organization's efforts are appreciated. "I was in there and I was talking with the woman behind the counter, and this other woman walked in, a pleasant, white-haired lady and she looks over and said "oh, that's nice. It's about time" as she recognized the display with the fresh food," he said.
Store owners interested in participating in the program should call Rural Action for more information at 740-767-4938.