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How Lawmakers Propose Fixing The Problem With Food Deserts

Senators are considering a grant fund to encourage grocery stores to fill the gap in Indiana food deserts.

A Senate committee has recommended setting aside $1 million to help stores open in underserved areas, or buy equipment to allow them to stock fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport) says he's confident people will make healthy choices if they have the opportunity.

"I'm generally a market guy, but here the market needs a little help to make sure people are making healthier choices. We don't want them just buying chips and candy bars when we can put fresh food and fresh fruit or fresh vegetables or other kinds of foods into their hands and into their bodies," says Head.

Head says many people in rural Indiana or in inner cities don't have easy access to anything but convenience stores.

A 2014 study from Walk Score ranked Indianapolis worst in the nation for the percentage of people who have easy access to food. Walk Score made its estimates based on how many people could walk to a grocery store within five minutes.

Head says filling the state's supermarket gaps would reduce health costs linked to obesity and diet-related diseases, and boost the economy as well. He points to a says a similar program in Philadelphia that he considers a success story.

"When they used it in Philadelphia they found that for every dollar they invested, they saw $1.50 in economic development. Because for every time a market opened or expanded other businesses wanted to be near it in order to take advantage of the foot traffic that the market was bringing in."

The bill defines a food desert as a five-mile area where 90-percent or more of the available food options are processed foods, not fresh.

The USDA's definition of a food desert is a little more broad. Here's its definition:

  • 20 percent to 40 percent of residents must make 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level
  • In an urban area, residents must have to travel a mile or more to get to groceries
  • In a rural area they must have to travel more than 10 miles to get groceries


Head proposed a $15 million grant fund last year. That proposal also passed the Commerce Committee, but died in the Appropriations Committee.

Head's hoping the scaled-down version can make it to the Senate floor.

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