SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
- The United States Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as “as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.”1 In 2009, it was estimated that 5 million people live in low-income areas that are more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store,2 limiting the access residents have to healthy food spatially, which is compounded by the fact that low-income residents’ poverty made means to obtain regular transportation to supermarkets and grocery stores more difficult.
- It is important to note that not all of the previously mentioned 23.5 million people have low income. If estimates are restricted to consider only low income people in low-income areas, then 11.5 million people, or 4.1 percent of the total U.S. population, live in low-income areas more than 1 mile from a supermarket. 2
- The Food Trust, a nonprofit organization started in Philadelphia, found that obesity rates in New Jersey are over 35 percent higher for those earning less than $15,000 a year when compared to those earning $50,000 or above.3
- The Food Trust also found that New Jersey as a whole has 25 percent fewer supermarkets per capita than the national average, with poverty-stricken cities like Trenton and Camden suffering the most from this state-wide deficit.3
- The placement and usage of supermarkets correlates with better health outcomes. The lowest rates for being overweight or obese in the U.S. are found where people have easy access to supermarkets and grocery stores
- Those who live farther away from grocery stores than from convenience stores or limited service restaurants have significantly higher rates of premature death from diabetes. Researchers in Indianapolis even estimate that the addition of one new grocery store to a high poverty neighborhood would result in a three-pound weight decrease among residents.7
- Data on time use and travel mode show that people living in low-income areas with limited access spend significantly more time (19.5 minutes) traveling to a grocery store than the national average (15 minutes).2 In small-town and rural areas with limited food access, the lack of transportation infrastructure is the most defining characteristic.2
- Urban centers with limited food access are also characterized by higher levels of racial segregation and greater levels of income inequality.
- Surveys about food access show that nearly 6 percent of all U.S. households did not always have the food they wanted or needed because of access related problems, with more than half of these households also lacked enough money for food.2
- Low-income neighborhoods have half as many supermarkets as the wealthiest neighborhoods and four times as many smaller grocery stores, according to an assessment of 685 urban and rural census tracts in three states.7
- It is also important to note that full-sized supermarkets and grocery stores have lower priced food than smaller stores, such as convenience stores. A key concern for people who live in areas with limited access is that they rely on small grocery or convenience stores that may not carry all the foods needed for a healthy diet and that may offer these foods and other food at higher prices.2
- Despite being one of the most affluent states in the country, New Jersey has over 25 percent fewer per capita supermarkets compared to national averages. A nationwide study of over 28,000 ZIP codes found that lower-income ZIP codes have 25 percent fewer per capita supermarkets than middle-income ZIP codes.8
- Lower-income New Jersey residents are likely to suffer from obesity and diet-related health problems at rates significantly higher than those of the population as a whole. Diabetes rates among New Jersey’s lowest income residents are over four times higher than those with income above $75,000.8
- The city of Trenton itself has been identified as a food desert and designated as having issues and symptoms similar to those of other urban centers considered food deserts with food insecurity affecting about one in five Trenton households.
- Nearly half of the city’s children, including those as young as three to five years old, are considered to be obese due to lack of access to healthy food.3
- A total of 17 percent of Trenton households report regularly lacking enough food to eat.3
- There are only three true supermarkets within the city limits, with an incredibly high number of what food access exists being restricted to limited food service restaurants (51 percent of outlets) and bodegas (29 percent), Trenton would have to triple its number of supermarkets to adequately serve its residents.3
- Compared to supermarkets, bodegas are cheaper and more accessible, but much smaller, tending to carry unhealthy, energy-dense and overly sweetened items including soda, candy, cooked fast food, cigarettes, alcohol, tobacco, packaged food and beverages of minimal nutritional value.
- Overall, most Trenton area supermarkets are inaccessible without a car, representing a major disparity. Many residents do not own cars and, while public transportation in the city is unreliable, it is also costly.
- This lack of food access has important and dire effects: compared to Mercer County and New Jersey, Trenton residents have more problems with their weight, with 39 percent of residents being obesecompared to 19.7 percent in Mercer County and 23.7 percent in New Jersey as a whole 3
- One in two Trenton children is overweight and obese in every age category, with the largest difference between Trenton public school children and the average child occurring among the youngest children, with 49 percent of three to five year olds in Trenton being overweight or obese compared to 21 percent in the U.S.
POLICY & FUNDING
- Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI): Sponsored by U.S. Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz, HFFI is a market-based approach to bring jobs and investment to underserved communities where healthy food options are scarce or unaffordable.
- Schwartz’s bill would authorize $125 million to continue HFFI and help make more grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food cooperatives and other options accessible by providing one time start-up grants and affordable loan financing.13
- Food Desert Oasis Act (HR 3100): Introduced by U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, the act would designate certain cities as food desert zones. It also would define certain business as food desert businesses and would provide tax benefits to those that derive at least 25 percent of their gross sales from the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables.13
– Employers would receive a tax credit of $1,500 for every employee hired from within a Food Desert Zone, and tax-exempt bonds would be used on a variety of store upgrades, from the actual purchase of a building to equipment, or even product purchases.13
- New Jersey Fresh Food Access Act (NJ SB 3089): Sponsored by State Senator Donald Norcross, the Fresh Food Access Act would provide loan and grant moneys from certain sales tax revenue to assist businesses in providing fresh and healthy foods in areas of the State where there is a demonstrated lack of availability of such foods.10
- Fresh Mobiles Pilot Program (AB 3688/SB 2728): This law established a mobile farmers’ market pilot program to increase access to fresh food for residents in the Garden State’s food deserts. The pilot targeted Camden, which had been identified by the USDA as one of the worst food deserts in the nation. The program utilizes local vendors and food producers and a small fleet of vans and refrigerated trailers to set up markets in the heart of food deserts.11
- New Jersey Food Access Initiative (NJFAI): program designed to increase the supply of affordable, fresh food in underserved areas across the state, while improving the diets and health outcomes of the state’s residents and spurring economic development in low- and moderate-income communities. The NJFAI provides financing to supermarket operators and developers of supermarkets statewide with an emphasis on serving ten priority cities which include Atlantic City, Camden, East Orange, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, New Brunswick, Paterson, Trenton and Vineland.
- NJFAI provides early-stage financing with low and no cost loans, typically repaid by construction financing. Loans range in size from $200,000 to $4,500,000, while limited grants, which range in size from $5,000 to $125,000, are also available to eligible loan applicants.9
- An eligible applicant project must be located in a low- to moderate-income census tract in New Jersey or located in or projected to serve an underserved community. Projects must all demonstrably provide a full selection of healthy, unprepared and unprocessed foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, to area residents.9
- Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP): Wholesome Wave a nonprofit founded in 2007 that is dedicated improving the accessibility and affordability of fresh, healthy, locally-grown food to historically underserved communities, launched its Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) in 2008 in order to specifically target communities with poor food access.
- When shopping at participating farmers markets and other farm-to-retail venues, DVCP participants receive a coupon incentive that matches the amount they spend in federal nutrition benefits (such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC) towards the purchase of healthful, locally grown food.6
- Since the program’s first implementation in 2008, DVCP has seen sizable growth in the number of participating markets and sales. Federal nutrition benefits and DVCP sales made at participating markets grew from $331,000 in 2009 to over $2.3 million in 2012.iv DVCP has experienced tremendous growth, expanding from 40 farmers markets in 2009 to 306 farm-to-retail markets in 2012.4
1United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service: Food Deserts
2United States Department of Agriculture, Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences, U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Serive, June 2009
3 Trenton Health Team, Community Health Needs Assessment Report Trenton, New Jersey, July 2013 http://www.capitalhealth.org/~/media/B67A9807E88E472287BCADB9CB7BCD67.ashx
4Wholesome Wave, Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program: Increasing Food Access and Local Farm Business Nationwide, 2012
5Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Double Value Coupon Program Diet and Shopping Behavior Study, September 2012
6Wholesome Wave, Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP)
7Treuhaft, Sarah and Karpyn, Allison. The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters, Policy Link, 2010.
8Lang, Brian and Manon, Miriam. Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in New Jersey, The Food Trust, 2009.
9New Jersey Food Access Initiative, Initiative Brochure, July 2012.
10Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, New Jersey Legislative Database.
11National Black Caucus of State Legislators, Black State Legislators Providing an Oasis from Food Deserts One Law at a Time, 2013.
12Supermarket News, House Bill Would Address Food Deserts, June 2013.
13Cortex, Angela. Food desert bill would entice new grocery stores with tax incentives, Natural Foods Merchandiser. September, 2009.