As many of us are picking up groceries this week to prepare for a big Thanksgiving feast. some people in the area are having a hard time getting to the grocery store any time of the year. In tonight’s ‘News 8 Investigates’ report . Madalyn O’Neill introduces us to an issue in our area known as food deserts. Thousands of people in the area live in a food desert. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as a low-income area where a significant amount of people live a mile or more from the nearest traditional supermarket in a city. and 10 miles from a grocery store in rural areas. . I looked into food deserts in La Crosse and Monroe counties. In the city of La Crosse, there are two . and in Monroe county, there are also two, located around Sparta and Tomah. Some of you may think that means people just have to drive a little farther . But for people who don’t have a car, which is more likely in these low-income neighborhoods. getting to the grocery store can be real problem. In this part of La Crosse . there are no supermarkets in sight. Sandra Harris To tell you the truth a lot of people around here tell you the same thing. They wish there was a grocery store around here that was close. Like almost 20 percent of the people living in the Powell Poage Hamilton neighborhood, Sandra Harris doesn’t have a vehicle. Nope. So without a grocery store within walking distance, she does what she has to do to get to one. A bus. But she says that’s a hassle. Carrying the bags on my own. I have no help. It’s been years sincethe P-P-H was home to a grocery store. Mayor Tim Kabat We see this in a lot of different retail services. The momentum is to get fewer and bigger . When you get into heart of neighborhoods, the numbers for them as far as traffic counts and stuff go don’t add up. Along with neighborhoods by UW-La Crosse, this area by Gundersen Health system including the P-P-H neighborhood is one of two USDA-defined food deserts in the county . encompassing almost 18 hundred households. Living just outside P-P-H, . Laura Field says there’s no convenient grocery store by her home. Laura Field Well Festival is somewhat close, but it’s still, I wouldn’t be able to walk. I wouldn’t be able to bike there. Because of her location, Field says she only makes a grocery shopping trip once a month . and that limits what she buys. I don’t want to buy a bunch of produce and have it go bad. Beyond inconvenience, food deserts raise some real health concerns. Food is a basic need for us all, and if you don’t have access to affordable food you’re either going hungry or eating bad food. Those in food deserts don’t have the same access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Brenda Lutz-Hanson A lot of evidence is showing getting fruits and veggies in will reduce chronic disease, including obesity which 2 out of 3 of us as adults are experiencing. Convenience stores can *help* fill the gap. They have good stuff but they don’t have everything I need. They often lack a variety of fresh produce . and can be tough on the pocketbook. Their prices are so high, I really wouldn’t want to buy nothing in there. Monroe County residents like Staar Mickelson face the same problem. She doesn’t always have access to a car . and often finds herself picking up food at a gas station just down the street from her home. Staar Mickelson Yes, which is way more expensive. In Monroe county, there are two food deserts identified by the USDA . one around Tomah, and one in the city of Sparta. According to county health rankings, about 5 percent of Monroe County’s population is low income and lives far from a grocery store. Kayleigh Day Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s over 2,388 county residents. Autumn Grooms If you take Sparta for instance . if transportation is problem, maybe you can’t get to the grocery store which is on the side of town and if you’re trying to walk, trying to get back with groceries, it’s not la crosse with a bus. You might have to call cab which is an added expense to get to those fresh fruits and vegetables. Mickelson lives in Sparta, and says her choices are limited when it comes to grocery shopping. If we dont have a vehicle or if I don’t have a ride so theres the transportation issue. So if she has to head to a convenience store in a pinch, that means healthy foods can’t be at the top of her shopping list. Its less food so it’s pretty limited to what you can get. Monroe county officials have identified low access to fruits and vegetables as a problem in the county . and the Sparta School district food pantry helps address that by helping families like Mickelson’s. NAT: do you want produce? um yeah. we’ll do..oh there’s tangerines. We’re getting help with having meals and they’re more healthy. Those in La Crosse food desert aren’t deserted, either. . There are already food pantries in the city . and officials are working on a permanent fix in the Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood. Michael Richards We’re looking at solutions, looking for opportunities to look at what options are available, whether it’s a farmers market or grocer to come into neighborhood and help. It’s a collaborative effort among the neighborhood group there, Gundersen, the city. The PPH neighborhood has been the target for a variety of revitalization efforts over the past few years . and now the focus is on a grocery store. Having an opportunity for people to have that basic need of healthy food being met is an important part of that neighborhood effort. City and health officials say the sooner the neighborhood can get a grocery store, the better. We’re so much a result of where we live and where we work and that’s our environment, so if everyday you live in a place where you don’t have access to affordable food . you’re not going to be healthy. So its just real important we create a healthy environment for folks. In this food desert, it doesn’t seem to be a mirage: A future with a neighborhood grocery store is within sight. It would be great for me,
if we had one in our neighborhood, that would be great. That would be awesome. In LaX, MO, N8 La Crosse’s Mayor Tim Kabat says they’re currently looking at different examples from other places in the country that have food deserts . and are working on locking down a development site. Realistically, he says the soonest construction on a potential grocery store would start is likely 20-18. In the mean time, Mayor Kabat suggested free bus rides for people heading to the grocery store . and WAFER is starting up their mobile food pantry to help those who have limited transportation. Thanks Madalyn. La Crosse and Monroe counties aren’t the only areas with food deserts. Much of rural Jackson and Vernon counties have the U-S-D-A designation of food desert as well.