The effort has broad ramifications for encouraging healthy lifestyle choices across the region, said Paul Makoski, environmentalhealth manager for the Calhoun County Health Department.
“A lot of groups working with food-accessibility, nutrition and healthy lifestyles issues have come together to try to resolve these health issues in a positive fashion,” Makoski said.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can to take care of some of these really poor health indicators, and we’re not going to move those unless we do something,” he said.
One way is to improve people’s access to fresh food in their communities, he said.
That isn’t easy when the nearest food source is a convenience store that doesn’t stock a full range of fresh produce, and larger markets are so distant that low-income people must spend their food dollars on gasoline instead — if they even own a vehicle.
An Economic Research Service map prepared in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows five census tracts in which thousands of Battle Creek residents likely find it difficult to find easily accessible food without spending additional money in travel costs.
The USDA defines a “food desert” as an area whose residents must travel at least one mile to locate an adequately stocked grocery store, not simply a corner convenience store.
The USDA’s map of food deserts doesn’t include Battle Creek’s central business district, a fact that Sprout Urban Farms director Jeremy Andrews says doesn’t give a true picture of the issue facing downtown residents.
“Our whole city is pretty much a food desert,” Andrews said, saying that the downtown area is a strategic location that lacks direct, easy access to fresh food.
“Yes, Horrock’s is downtown, but you have to go over railroad tracks and deal with a lot of traffic to get there,” he said. “One thing we are missing to make downtown more livable, more walkable, is a grocery.”