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'Food swamps' in Augusta lack healthy food

Saturday, March 16, 2013 4:46 PM
Last updated Sunday, March 17, 2013 4:49 AM
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They are neighborhoods in Augusta filled with houses and people and convenience stores. But on the food map they appear as large empty patches where residents lack access to healthy foods, which experts say sets them up for obesity and food-related diseases.

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Irene White pushes her 11-month-old granddaughter in a stroller as she buys bananas from Sebrena Muirhead at Nothing But Fresh Produce, a fruit-and-vegetable stand set up in the vacant parking lot adjoining Family Dollar on Walton Way in Augusta.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Irene White pushes her 11-month-old granddaughter in a stroller as she buys bananas from Sebrena Muirhead at Nothing But Fresh Produce, a fruit-and-vegetable stand set up in the vacant parking lot adjoining Family Dollar on Walton Way in Augusta.

Dr. Heidi Blanck, the chief of the Obesity Prevention and Control Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls them “food swamps” – neighborhoods where the stores selling healthy food such as fresh fruits and vegetables are vastly outnumbered by convenience stores and fast-food restaurants selling unhealthy choices. An Augusta Chronicle analysis of Richmond County found five Census tracts where there are virtually no healthy options, creating what is referred to as a “food desert.”

The Turpin Hill and Bethlehem neighborhoods, downtown Augusta, the lower east side of south Augusta and an area east of Washington Road to the Savannah River bordered by Interstate 20 and the Columbia County line are dominated by fast-food franchises. Except for that border area, almost all of them also see high percentages of people living in poverty. The lack of grocery stores, and the high percentage of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores or other stores that sell staples but not fresh food, is no coincidence in these areas, experts said.

Supermarkets across the country had a trend “where a lot of communities were red-lined,” or marked off as poor financial risks for store placement, said Dwayne Wharton, the director of external affairs for The Food Trust in Philadelphia.

Over the years as people left for the suburbs “you had stores following the more affluent customer base and almost abandoning these communities because they didn’t necessarily recognize that there still is buying power in those communities,” he said. “And not necessarily even considering the health impact that would have. What took their place were convenience stores looking to promote and sell these high-caloric, processed foods and not necessarily fruits and vegetables. You have a lot of fast-food restaurants that exist around these communities as well, the food swamp issue.”

That is by design as well, said John Paul Stout, the sustainable development manager for the Augusta Planning Department.

“From a city planning, urban design perspective that is something you are always combating because obviously those with the lower socio-economic demographic range are more apt to purchase at the lower-cost food outlets, which are typically your fast food and typically your least healthy,” he said. “It really is a negative cycle. And it is cyclical because fast-food restaurants aren’t putting places on a whim.”

WHILE SOME WILL argue that issues such as childhood obesity or obesity in general are strictly matters of personal responsibility, the fact is those communities are at a disadvantage, said Deborah Presnell, a facilitator with Healthy Augusta and a member of the Richmond County Board of Health.

“People need a choice and the healthy choice should be the easy choice,” she said. “For the poor, the healthy choice is very, very difficult. Their choice is to go to Family Dollar (stores).”

That is why groups such as Voices for Georgia’s Children see food deserts and food swamps as childhood obesity issues. The areas tend to see higher rates of obese children, said Dante McKay, the associate policy director for child health.

In Augusta’s Bethlehem neighborhood, which scored a zero for percentage of stores selling healthy foods, nearly 60 percent of the residents are living in poverty, with 25 percent to 35 percent being children.

Food deserts and food swamps are also likely to lack safe recreational facilities and access to physical activity in general, which also need to be considered, McKay said.

“Food access is a huge issue, but it is not the only issue,” he said. “If you don’t look at all of these areas together, then it could undermine the goal of reducing or reversing childhood obesity in the state.”

For the past year, The Food Trust and Voices for Georgia’s Children have been helping to lead the Georgia Supermarket Access Task Force, meeting with key participants, such as grocers, those in public health and agriculture, to talk about ways to get stores back into these areas. Some of them are financial and some are regulatory, Wharton said.

“We came up with all of these barriers and then started talking about things we could do policy-wise that could make it more appealing and make the environment better for these grocers to operate in underserved areas,” he said.

The final report with about a dozen recommendations will be issued later this month, but one of them will be encouraging Georgia to follow the lead of Pennsylvania in establishing a Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The public-private fund, which included investment from the state, grew to about $85 million and helped create nearly 90 projects. Stores were brought back into areas and existing stores were renovated or equipped to carry fresh food.

“It not only makes a good health impact where 500,000 people now have access to healthy foods who didn’t have it before but you also had the creation or the retention of these 5,000 jobs that went along with it,” Wharton said. “You also had markets opening in underserved areas that basically were written off and are now thriving.”

That kind of impact is on the mind of planners as they look at projects, such as the revitalization and renovation of the 15th Street corridor in Augusta, Stout said.

“We definitely deal with food deserts on 15th Street when we talk about revitalizing that area, which is one that is very susceptible to a food swamp,” he said.

As they talk about creating greenspaces and making the corridor more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, they are also encouraging groups to think about community gardens, Stout said. And although he encourages groups to apply for grants at every opportunity, there is only so much the city can do, he said.

EFFORTS TO GET communitywide action in Augusta on food issues so far have failed to yield any large action, Presnell said.

“A lot of people are interested in food issues but from a lot of different perspectives,” she said.

There are a lot of people who want to discuss the problems, Stout said.

One success story is in the Harrisburg neighborhood, where The Veggie Truck Farmers Market will be held every Tuesday starting March 26 at St. Luke United Methodist Church. The initiative grew out of the efforts of a number of different groups, including Good Neighbor Ministries, St. Luke and Augusta Locally Grown, said Brett Heimlich, a student at Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

The market will include health screenings and cooking demonstrations. It can provide a real incentive for residents to buy the locally produced goods through a grant that lets them match every dollar of EBT purchases. That also allows local farmers to connect with a new market, he said.

Heimlich, who lives and volunteers in Harrisburg with other medical students through Good Neighbor Ministries, said the community is really taking ownership of the effort.

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dichotomy
37600
Points
dichotomy 03/16/13 - 06:17 pm
14
4
Is anybody else seeing

Is anybody else seeing visions of a new law that mandates every underprivileged neighborhood must have a government subsidized Publix?

soapy_725
44131
Points
soapy_725 03/16/13 - 06:24 pm
1
0
Food swamps may be caused by the snakes and gators
Unpublished

Bring on the socialism. It is the Christian thing to do. If people will not provide for themselves and their children, force feed them with Anglo Saxon morals, work ethics and healthy menu selection. FDA stores on every corner. Free cheese, dried milk, yellow grits, cornmeal, canned beef, beans and squash. Then an FDA chef to cook the food and force it down their throats. Free drugs on every corner. Free booze on every corner. Add a few AC/DC counselors per neighborhood will be good.

soapy_725
44131
Points
soapy_725 03/16/13 - 06:27 pm
1
0
stores tend to stock what the customer are puchasing...
Unpublished

people who do not want to cook or are to lazy to cook seek someone else to prepare their food. This is not an out growth of poverty. Just as crime is not an out growth of poverty. Crime and other life decisions determine success or failure, life or death.

At least for those who attain adulthood. Mental adulthood, that is.

Riverman1
94190
Points
Riverman1 03/16/13 - 07:03 pm
8
0
Don't Buy That

From that photo on Washington Rd it's only a few miles either way until you hit a grocery store or you could go to the ones on Furys Ferry. I live in a good place in Columbia County and I have to drive a few miles to shop at a grocery store. I suggest that's about par for any community in a moderate sized city. Those in small towns and rural areas have the longest drive.

burninater
9943
Points
burninater 03/17/13 - 12:00 am
2
6
Is anybody else seeing

Is anybody else seeing visions of a new law that mandates every underprivileged neighborhood must have a government subsidized Publix?
---------
Not really. I'd expect to see more of this, from the article:

"The final report with about a dozen recommendations will be issued later this month, but one of them will be encouraging Georgia to follow the lead of Pennsylvania in establishing a Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The public-private fund, which included investment from the state, grew to about $85 million and helped create nearly 90 projects. Stores were brought back into areas and existing stores were renovated or equipped to carry fresh food."

countyman
21682
Points
countyman 03/17/13 - 01:16 am
3
2
Good intentions!

I think the article is trying to make a good point, but should have used something other than census tracts. Some areas of the county do need access to healthier options(East Augusta, Harrisburg, Bethlehem, Laney Walker, South Augusta inside I-520, and Turpin Hill).

The census tract referenced in the article may border the area of Washington rd near I-20, but in reality people can easily drive three additional minutes and choose from the Publix, Kroger, and Fresh Market further up Washington rd. The grocery stores on Furys Ferry, Walmart/Sams on Bobby Jones, and the Costco on Riverwatch aren't far away either.

Anybody living on/off Washington rd has the best access to grocery stores in metro Augusta. A few miles from two the Publix's/Walmart/Kroger in Evans, Walmart/Earth Fare/Publix in Martinez, and the Costco/Publix/Kroger/Sams/Fresh Market in West Augusta.

The Mcdonalds/Bojangles/Pizza Hut near the Medical District, and Zaxbys/Wendys/etc on Walton Way near Harrisburg must count as downtown. The article should put convenience stores for Turpin Hill/Bethlehem, because they don't have any franchises. A new Zaxbys would be huge in either one of those areas.

RoadkiII
6807
Points
RoadkiII 03/17/13 - 02:29 am
9
2
It's all Food Lions fault.

It's all Food Lions fault. Now I have to drive two miles, or less, to get to Wal-Mart, Kroger, or the new Aldis. By the way, I have to pass fast food to get to any of them. Sorry, but nutrition is a personal choice. And I do believe that the bus system runs trough the areas mentioned so don't use the lack of transportation argument.

Dixieman
17517
Points
Dixieman 03/17/13 - 06:23 am
6
1
9,806 POINTS

Yeah, the Community Reinvestment Act did such a great job blowing up banks and crashing the economy that the government should now do the same thing to supermarkets!!

seenitB4
98427
Points
seenitB4 03/17/13 - 07:09 am
5
2
So much to say on this article

Dixieman is right ...are we going to DICTATE where a grocery store goes in a community....like we did with the banks---housing???

Years ago I went with my granmama to the A/P on Greene St...she lived on Peach Orch almost at Lumpkin Rd.....long way to drive but she did....she didn't need much because she grew her veggies....corn-tomatos-okra-peas-beans--also had eggs from her chicks....
No 1 best choice is to grow your own veggies
No 2 Put the lazy younguns to work & let them learn all about growing food---get them off the dang games & such...

The veggie truck is a great idea....most churches would probably allow that to happen every week---also farmers markets...

There are reasons grocery stores won't open in all areas....theft is one reason ......look around your area & try to fix the negatives....be honest about the problems....have weekend clean ups & involve the kids...this is FIXABLE...

Little Lamb
49245
Points
Little Lamb 03/17/13 - 08:16 am
2
2
Swamp

You are correct, RM. I live in that food swamp east of Washington Rd. and north of I-20. I cannot find healthy food here, so I'm having cheetos as my vegetable for Sunday dinner.

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 03/17/13 - 09:00 am
3
2
Once Again, Here Comes THE GOVERNMENT...........

What a bunch of ...., or whatever! I realize that food cost more nowadays, but, by the time you figure what a fastfood "meal" costs, some good vegetables and fruits could be purchased. Most often the "wants" of people outweigh the type of food they really need to eat . Plus, laziness is a big part of this too. So many people do Not want to cook, it's easier to drive to Burger King(or walk, oops...a little exercise maybe)! seenit got it right when she mentioned the theft, who can blame a business, of any kind, for not being in a certain area? I wouldn't want to try and make a living in any area where I would be robbed by shoplifters, nor would anyone else!

Riverman1
94190
Points
Riverman1 03/17/13 - 09:02 am
3
1
It makes me think of the guy

It makes me think of the guy who stands out by the I-20 exit on Wash. Rd. saying he will work for food. Now we know why, he's in a dang food swamp.

jimmymac
48001
Points
jimmymac 03/17/13 - 09:17 am
2
1
FOOD CHOICES
Unpublished

I've got an idea. Why don't people living in the "food swamp" do some old style home cooking instead of trotting their big behinds to the fast food places to eat? Food is a personal choice and my guess is the lardo's would drive past a healthy food venue to eat the fast food. That's why so many are fat!

itsanotherday1
48395
Points
itsanotherday1 03/17/13 - 09:48 am
4
2
"The final report with about

"The final report with about a dozen recommendations will be issued later this month, but one of them will be encouraging Georgia to follow the lead of Pennsylvania in establishing a Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The public-private fund, which included investment from the state, grew to about $85 million and helped create nearly 90 projects. Stores were brought back into areas and existing stores were renovated or equipped to carry fresh food."

If they do, I would like to see EBT cards restricted to only be accepted in these stores, and only for fresh/healthier foods. No soda pop, no fat back, only reduced fat cheese, no potato chips, etc.

I'll be darned if I'm not tired of helping people buy unhealthy foods, then have to pay again for the resulting medical issues.

tres257
8
Points
tres257 03/17/13 - 10:19 am
4
0
Guerrilla gardening

It's time for people to start gardening. Grow your own fresh produce. Find a vacant lot and plant a vegetable garden. You can plant a garden anywhere: on the 3rd floor of your apartment complex, vertically for adequate space. Feed YOURSELF. The rates for obesity and poverty in my country are inexcusable.

Conservative Man
5578
Points
Conservative Man 03/17/13 - 10:43 am
2
1
The lady whose picture.....

....is featured on the print edition of the AC , Miss Sabrina is who I buy most of my seasonal fresh produce from....great, tough smart lady and I'd recommend any one who travels on Walton Way to look for her red truck in the parking lot of Family Dollar and shop with her...
I think the issue is twofold: convenience and expense.....
It's more convenient to "drive thru" and get a dbl qtr pounder and a coke than it is to get out of your car and shop. Also most folks think it's more expensive to buy fresh. In some cases that may be true, but back to Miss Sabrina, I buy as much of my produce from her as I can because she is VERY reasonable in her pricing.....

crkgrdn
2287
Points
crkgrdn 03/17/13 - 11:40 am
1
1
Good grief!

A good bit of our vegetables and fruit is imported.
We live in the South with lots of curb markets. Hop in your Cadillac and drive to one of these markets. I do it.

Take some responsibility. Good things always require effort.

gargoyle
21089
Points
gargoyle 03/17/13 - 11:41 am
1
0
local alternitive

The easy solution is the veggie stands that are every where if you look for them.Has far as a community solution that could be expanded to fit needs of any area check the link below. The real problem is that folks just don't want to plan a meal ahead and veggie's perish quick so you have to know whats seasonaly viable.I would love to see produce stands in every neighborhood ,that being said the neighborhood has to support it.

http://augusta.locallygrown.net/

Little Lamb
49245
Points
Little Lamb 03/17/13 - 12:19 pm
1
2
The way taxes work

crkgrdn posted:

Take some responsibility. Good things always require effort.

Because of his personal wealth envy and his personal belief that Marxism is superior to free enterprise, President Obama is bent on taking wealth by force from those do make the effort and re-distribute it to those who don't make the effort.

allhans
24954
Points
allhans 03/17/13 - 01:06 pm
1
1
'....The public-private fund,

'....The public-private fund, which included investment from the state, grew to about $85 million and helped create nearly 90 projects..."

Whoa!
That is almost $1 million a project. I hope they are accomplishing something other than lining the pockets of the bureaucrats who started this thing.

allhans
24954
Points
allhans 03/17/13 - 01:11 pm
2
1
I can recall years ago that

I can recall years ago that trucks came by with produce, a scale hanging from a hook, swaying back and forth, selling whatever was in season, maybe some of those folks who don't now have a job could give it a try.

deestafford
32168
Points
deestafford 03/17/13 - 04:20 pm
4
1
I bet none of the people in a food "desert" are over 3 miles

from a major grocery store. Harrisburg is mentioned and their is a Kroger within walking distance from most of Harrisburg. There used to be grocery stores downtown and Walton Way run by Gurley's and they went out of business for a number of reasons. Also, crime is a consideration for store locations.
Let's face it. Stores are in business to make money, not be social service facilities. If money was to be made by putting stores in these areas the stores would be there.
Another bunch of liberal "We smart people must do it for the stupid people who can't do things for themselves."

mosovich
858
Points
mosovich 03/17/13 - 05:10 pm
0
1
You know..

I've been in a convience store that had at the counter bananas, and apples.. Both were 1/2 the price of the junk food.. Mother to children "get the honey bun, it's much better than a banana.." No joke.. Of course all were over weight, but the mother took the banana from the child and gave her a honey bun.. So, you can have all the vegetables in the world available and in my example 1/2 the price of junk food and people will still buy junk food. McDonalds and all the rest do have salads you know!!

specsta
7181
Points
specsta 03/17/13 - 07:30 pm
2
3
The Right To Live Healthy

The snobbish attitude toward poor people, evidenced by some of the smug comments on this story, is astonishing.

Here's a few facts - not everyone has a car to go to the grocery store. If they do have a car, gas is almost $4/gallon. When every penny counts, having a grocery store with fresh food in the neighborhood makes a big difference.

Fresh, healthy food costs more than junk food. I consider this to be deliberate, orchestrated by an unholy marriage between Big Pharma and the food giants. Somebody please tell me why one can of soup must have an entire day's worth of sodium infused as part of the recipe. Unhealthy food intake leads to disease - and a dependence on man-made drugs.

A convenience store selling every known item of junk food, cigarettes and liquor can be found on EVERY corner in poorer areas. This is deliberate as well.

The big chain stores are not going to locate in these poorer areas. Their margin of profit is priority, and they would rather cater to middle and upper-class salaries. This is a shame that no company has the fortitude to take a lower profit in some areas - and help provide access to healthy foods for people who not only struggle financially, but struggle health-wise as well.

High blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, liver damage, etc. are ailments that can be triggered by unhealthy food intake. It would only be the right thing to do to make sure that access to fresh, nutritious foods at low cost is available in every neighborhood, not just the wealthy and healthy.

Little Lamb
49245
Points
Little Lamb 03/17/13 - 11:00 pm
2
1
Next

Specsta posted:

It would only be the right thing to do to make sure that access to fresh, nutritious foods at low cost is available in every neighborhood, not just the wealthy and healthy.

Okay, the federal government takes over the healthcare sector in 2014. Next comes the foodcare sector. Is 2018 too early?

Karl Marx is smiling from his cell in hell.

Riverman1
94190
Points
Riverman1 03/18/13 - 06:03 am
4
1
"Somebody please tell me why

"Somebody please tell me why one can of soup must have an entire day's worth of sodium infused as part of the recipe."

Because it tastes better.

soapy_725
44131
Points
soapy_725 03/18/13 - 08:57 am
0
0
And why does reduced sodium soup cost more?
Unpublished

You are putting less of something in the can and it increases the cost? Maybe it is the label?

Increased salts and sugars came about when the GOVMENT decided that FAT was the biggest evil in the known world. Take the flavor our, and ad sugar. Simple. Everyone loves sugar.

Why does LITE salad dressing cost more? LITE is an industry word for more WATER.

Reduced SODIUM is an industry word for more High Fructose Corn Syrups.

The USA is the only nation in the world that attempts to force its citizens to drink MILK. The rest of the world does fine without it.

crazyoldman
21
Points
crazyoldman 03/18/13 - 08:52 am
3
1
waste

Oh my gosh what a waste of investigating, time, ink, space, etc…Duhhhh huhhhhh, They’re places in this country and even the state and our area that you have to travel for miles and miles and there use to be less stores spaced further apart than they are now, so.

crazyoldman
21
Points
crazyoldman 03/18/13 - 08:55 am
1
1
walk

And It used to be safe to walk or ride a bicycle up and down the road and we wanted to.

corgimom
38695
Points
corgimom 03/18/13 - 04:49 pm
0
1
Those areas used to have food

Those areas used to have food stores- until the 1970 riot came along. Nobody in their right mind wanted to rebuild, you can't get insurance for a riot, and no bank wants to lend in an area where there was a riot. Between the looting and the fires, businesspeople lost everything that they had worked for, all their lives.

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