By Amanda Creech
Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, proposed an amendment Tuesday to a bill that might offer some relief to areas suffering from food deserts.
A food desert is an area lacking convenient access to grocery stores or food markets that carry milk and fresh fruits and vegetables. People living in so-called food deserts often do their grocery shopping at convenience stores or gas stations buying mostly prepackaged, processed foods.
Shackleford’s amendment would appropriate $5 million per year to the small business and investment program. House Bill 1256 provides a healthy food financing fund in the form of grants and loans to small businesses and groceries in underserved communities. The bill not advance during the last session but was a topic lawmakers decided to study.
Shackleford said most of her district would be considered a food desert. A program recently started, Instacart, is a new food delivery service in Indianapolis.
“They’re starting to deliver groceries in areas. They’re delivering out of Marsh, also from Costco, Petco and Georgetown food market,” Shackleford said. “This is another way you can look at how do we get those fresh foods and get foods out to those underserved areas that don’t have grocery stores or markets in their areas.”
Danielle Patterson, government relations director for the American Heart Association, said the $5 million dollars a year for funding is a small investment in the process of making healthy food accessible.
“Those numbers can be leveraged against federal dollars, private dollars, grant dollars, as well as corporate and individuals donations,” Patterson said. “It’s a great way to sustain a program. With a small initial investment from the state they could create a sustainable fund.”
Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, also serves constituents living in a food desert. He said more than 40,000 people in his district do not have a grocery store within a reasonable distance. But he said his district faces several problems. It’s also home to many abandoned properties.
Taylor would like to “give authority to allow communities to discuss” the issues they are facing and let them brainstorm ideas on how to solve them.
A member from his district, Brenda Havens, testified about the reality of living in a food desert.
“I am a lifelong non-driver, I have bad eyesight, so I’ve never driven but Indianapolis as a whole is in the top 10 percent of households that do not have a vehicle,” Havens said. “My nearest grocery is over two miles away now. But that means it’s two miles each way. That’s a four mile round trip which I did do in 95 degree weather. In the winter it means snow and ice, it’s five below and I’ve been standing for 20 minutes at the bus stop because the bus is late. I can do this because I’m healthy and mobile.”
For the elderly living in food deserts, however, they are not as able to walk as much as Havens, she said. As co-chair of the Mid-north Quality of Life Health Committee, Havens said she is asking for help for her community.
“What we are asking for the state is to help us maneuver through the process of looking at a food Co-Op, working with a food hub,” she said.
The study committee will continue to discuss this issue at their next meeting on Sept. 23.
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.