Gillibrand Offers $1B Plan Backing Up White House on Local Food Outlets

Her approval rating on the rise amid a difficult election battle, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined the president’s campaign against childhood obesity this week by proposing $1 billion in loans and grants to build healthier neighborhood grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

food_desert_1.jpgThe view from one type of "food desert." (Photo: Springfield Institute)

Gillibrand’s legislation, co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), aligns with the $400 million healthy food plan included in the 2011 White House budget. Both programs would follow the template of Pennsylvania’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative by offering loans and grants to help construct new grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other food outlets in historically under-served neighborhoods.

The bill aims to eradicate the growing phenomenon of "food deserts," the moniker advocates have bestowed on lower-income areas — in New York and Chicago as well as in more rural areas — where the lack of access to fresh food leaves residents dependent on sugary, fattening fast-food alternatives.

Traveling outside a food desert is often impossible without a car, an option out of reach for many of the neighborhoods’ most needy residents.

Research on travel behavior conducted by the University of California-Davis’ Susan Handy found that in areas where markets and other stores were one-fifth of a mile or less from most homes, 87 percent of residents regularly walked to run errands. When that average distance between home and market increased to three-fifths of a mile, the share of even periodic foot travelers dropped to one-third.

Gillibrand’s office also highlighted the job-creation potential of healthier food access, estimating in a release that the $1 billion grant program would create 200,000 new jobs nationwide and 26,000 in New York City.

  • jerry

    food desert? the reason we have “food Deserts” is because Wal-mart has destroyed the local opportunity for small grocers. Cheap Apple juice from china and other non USA products brought in by this bemoth creates an almost impossible situation for even successful retail businesses to survive. Now we need a government subsidy for retailers in the inner city. BAH. more money down a rat hole.

  • Creative ways to provide access to capital for would-be local fresh food vendors would be huge. In our area (Western Mass), there is a new food enterprise finance fund is about to launch (Google “PVGrows”). And thanks for the link to The Springfield Institute!

  • I know it is impossible to do, but why go through the motions with this legislation when the real culprit of food deserts is the massive amount of subsidy we provide for corn, soy, and wheat? Get rid of those subsidies, and we’d no longer have McDonalds and others out competing a local grocer.

  • Eric B

    The picture is of Figueroa Street right next to USC. While that particular stretch is full of fast-food serving lazy university students, the neighborhood does actually have high-quality grocery stores. The area to the east of the freeway used to not, but a Superior and Fresh & Easy opened up within the past few months serving that neighborhood (South Central). There are still plenty of “food deserts” in South LA, but for once the City has actually been proactive in luring grocery stores into these communities through the CRA.

    Local policy seems to be adequate to address the local disparities, but I’m with Josef on this one: federal policy needs to focus on undoing the damage caused by misplaced federal subsidies. A good start would be to remove the subsidies in the first place. Gillibrand has no Presidential aspirations, does she? Who is in a better position to take on corn-state subsidies than a New York senator?

  • The UCDavis study indicates that cycling advocates have some work to do. People don’t think of cycling as a feasible mode of travel to the grocery store. If the trip was .2 miles or less, they walked. Over that, they drove.

    We need to get people to see how easily a bike fits into their grocery shopping. That’s why I lead a Farmers Market Ride twice a month here in the LBC, demonstrating how a bicycle easily replaces a car for errands and grocery shopping.

    Organizing Farmers Market Rides is easy and fun, while helping people do their errands. Rather than abdicate power and responsibility to government or WalMart, why not organize a ride in your neighborhood to the nearest Farmer’s Market or good supermarket?

  • Eric B

    Yoshiyahu, that’s a great point! No one wants their ice cream to melt while waiting for the bus 😉 but bikes can really fill in the gap. What kind of bike do you use for cargo? Do you find that people are receptive to “unconventional” bikes that can transport larger loads? I’ll ride to the store with a large backpack, but for a week’s worth of groceries I have to walk (and carry 4-5 bags).

  • To follow on to yoshiyashu’s point, I have suck my meager fortune into all sorts of cargo bikes and accessories in the hope of supplying people with the right bikes to carry loads of cargo, shopping, and a kid or three.

    To me, that level of work is going to do more good than another government spending program that will try and reverse the effects of our massive government spending program to pay for excess corn, wheat, and soy!

  • To reply to Eric B — I just use two grocery panniers, and that allows me to get about 4 grocery bags worth onto the bike. But after we go to the Farmer’s Market and stock up on the week’s produce, we’d like to go to the nearby Trader Joe’s for stuff like cat food and other stuff you don’t get at the farmer’s market, and we have no more room.

    What would work perfectly, of course, is a trailer. But the cost would be prohibitive right now to buy one. Perhaps one of those low-cost trailer conversions, or one of those bamboo ones is possible. It would be a cool project to get into at our new LBC coop, the H.U.B., were I mechanically minded to even the smallest degree.