UNION — As a college student, I have limited time between classes to grab a snack. One day my fellow intern Koby and I were walking to our internship at Piedmont Physic Garden and wanted a healthy snack. We visited the campus bookstore and Family Dollar and quickly found there were no options within walking distance. Bi-Lo, two miles away, was our only choice.
This dilemma sparked our interest in researching food deserts. Here’s what we found.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers. While food deserts are often short on whole food providers, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, they are heavy on local quickie marts that provide a wealth of processed, sugar, and fat laden foods that are known contributors to our nation’s obesity epidemic.
The USDA reports the following statistics in South Carolina:
• 1,003,861 low-income individuals statewide live in food deserts, areas more than one mile from a grocery store that have limited access to other outlets such as corner stores, farmers markets, food hubs, and mobile markets.
• These communities exist in every region of the state.
• To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).
• In South Carolina, residents of food deserts spend approximately $311 million annually on groceries outside of their local community, commonly referred to as grocery store leakage.
• South Carolina is the 7th most obese state in the country and lags behind the rest of the nation in overall health measures.
• According to America’s Health Rankings 2013, published by the American Health Foundation, South Carolina ranked 43rd on standard public health measures, including the prevalence of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
• The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reports the state spends an estimated $1.2 billion on obesity-related health care.
• If South Carolina could halt the increase in prevalence of obesity at today’s levels, it would save South Carolinians a total of $3 billion by 2018.
Though the statistics are dismal, there are simple solutions that improve access to fresh, healthy foods, improve overall health and save money.
Creating a garden in your backyard or in your community is a great response, and Piedmont Physic Garden will host a three-part series on Survival Gardens this year. The first is scheduled for March 11 from 10 a.m.-noon with Tommy Sinclair and Buddy Blackman hosting. The cost is $20 per session.
Both Sinclair and Blackmon are retired school educators and avid gardeners. According to Sinclair, the survival garden concept is based off the World War II year-round “Victory Garden” that many across America had in their yards during the 1940s.
Today, planting a backyard or neighborhood garden is no longer an old school idea, but instead, an alternative to processed foods filled with sugar, fat and preservatives.
Fortunately, Union County offers several healthy options that improve access to fresh food. The farmers market on Main Street in front of the YMCA offers fresh produce in season. Monarch and Jonesville also have farmer’s markets, all open year-round. Please visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FarmersMarketUnionSC/ for more information and updates.
In addition, Union Carnegie Library partners with Catawba Fresh Market as a pick up location for fresh food from Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster, Union, York counties. Visit http://catawbafreshmarket.com/ for more information, to order fresh food.
As spring interns, we’re proud the mission of PPG is to create a pathway for healthy lifestyles. Please call 864-427-2556 or email at [email protected] to learn more about the gardening process, or to register for the March 11 workshop.
Bryana Vaughan and Koby Lee are spring interns at Piedmont Physic Garden and students at USC-Union.