North Carolina is a huge agricultural state; it seems as though we have an amazing assortment of produce and artisanal food at our fingertips at all times. The food culture in our state is growing as well – more and more food artisans and innovative restaurants are coming out of the woodwork to reawaken a love of good food. But there is still a huge problem of food accessibility. There has been a growing discussion in North Carolina about the food deserts in our state and how to better serve those communities. A food desert is defined as a community that does not have access to healthy food, fruits and vegetables, and must travel outside of their community for food. In an urban area this means that there are no grocery stores within one square mile, and in a rural area it is within ten square miles. North Carolina has 349 food deserts in 80 counties meaning that about one in five North Carolinians are food insecure. This past Tuesday a bipartisan group proposed a plan to get more healthy food into North Carolina food deserts by setting aside $1 million for produce refrigerators and training for already existing stores in these areas. The plan would not only create access to healthy food, but it would also support small, locally owned businesses and help them stay in afloat. This bill could be a huge step in the right direction; it not only acknowledges the importance of good food for everyone but it proposes an innovative way to support the already existing community. Not to mention the fact that this plan will stir up the conversation even further and push more people to be aware and involved in helping everyone have access to healthy food. When it comes to a local food system, the more the better; we need a lot of people working toward the same goal.
This plan is just one of the many ways that people are creating better access to healthy food in the Triangle. Interfaith Food Shuttle, SEEDS, RAFI, community gardens, backpack buddies, etc. are all working toward the same goal in different ways. Not only this, but small local food businesses play a part in making our community more stable and food secure. The beautiful thing is that all these different approaches are necessary for the solution to be sustainable; there is never one universal answer. We need IFFS to redistribute food that could go to waste, we need SEEDS to teach people how to grow food in the city, we need RAFI to educate farmers, we need politicians to allocate money for projects such as the one being proposed, we need small businesses that buy and sell local food. Simultaneously, we need educated consumers who are willing to support smaller, more sustainable businesses that can be community focused. When you buy local food, you are putting money directly back into your economy and directly into the pocket of someone who lives very nearby. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly encouraging to know that the push for a sustainable food system in the triangle is growing and building momentum. These food deserts in North Carolina could be an area of town we have been to before, or it could be a small community along a beautiful stretch of the Haw River–it is not just an academic term that is hard to nail down in reality.
This plan is an important continuation and revival of an incredibly important conversation, so let’s sustain the conversation and fuel it even further forward. Buy local, support local, build relationships, and we can make sure that we all have an equal ability to access healthy, fresh vegetables from our local farmers, artisans, and businesses.