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Food Deserts Abound in City, Region

Many locals lack adequate access to grocery stores

If you have a hard time making to the grocery store, you aren't alone. According to data released by the USDA last month, more than half of the city of Fredericksburg is a food desert where many residents lack convenient access to grocery stores. The problem is compounded by poverty rates, which force many poor to go without adequate nutrition solely because of lack of transportation to grocery stores.

According to a 2009 report by the USDA's Economic Research Servce, found that urban areas with limited food access are frequently also beset by high levels of racial segregation and income inequality. A lack of adequate public transportation was also common In small towns and rural areas with inadequate food access.

The USDA defines two types of food deserts, urban and rural. For urban areas like Fredericksburg, a food desert is any location whose residents have to travel more than a mile to get to a large grocery store. In rural settings, a food desert is any location where the residents must travel more than 10 miles to a grocery store. But it's not just distance from food that counts when the USDA identifies a food desert. The communities, urban and rural, must also have either a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher or a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area's median family income.

Nearly half the people in Fredericksburg's Census Tract 302, which extends from College Heights in the north to the neighborhoods on either side of Lafayette Boulevard abutting the city's southern border, 45 percent of its residents, 1131 people, have both low-income and limited access to adequate food resources. That number includes 635 children, 329 elderly, and 90 homes without a vehicle.

That same tract also absorbed much of the growth of the hispanic community, whose numbers there increased 124 percent since 2000, according to Census data.

Fredericksburg's Census Tract 5, which stretches from the area of Celebrate Virginia South to Idlewild on the west side of Jefferson Davis Highway has 742 people, nearly 27 percent of its residents, classified as living in areas of low access to grocery stores. The number includes 204 children and 45 households without access to a vehicle. 

This tract absorbed even more hispanic residents over the last 10 years, with the hispanic population up 258 percent to roughly 1,110 residents.

This tract is also home to the Wegman's Grocery store, but the lack of nearby accessible housing for residents of the tract means that many are traveling more than a mile to get to the store.

Fredericksburg's Census Tract 4, encompassing Mayfield and the downtown neighborhoods along Lafayette Boulevard, has 881 people, 30 percent of its population, with low access to food resources. That group includes 238 children, 141 elderly and 30 homes without a vehicle.

This tract has long been home to historically black neighborhoods, with african american population making up a plurality of its residents at 48 percent.

Regionally, the entire western half of Spotsylvania County is classified as a rural food desert. Stafford County a small food desert mostly located around Aquia. The Southwestern corner of Carole County is also a food desert.

The USDA is trying to address the issue of food deserts by targeting programs at areas lacking adequate access to grocery stores. For instance, as Frederickburg Patch reported earlier today, Applicants can receive between $5,000 to $100,000 in funds for projects which raise awareness of farmers markets. The project gives priority to projects which seek to expand farmers markets in urban and rural food deserts.

Last month, the USDA compiled data on food deserts in the United States into an interactive map, which can be seen here.

Stephen Hu June 22, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Hopefully the new grocery store opening by the Olde Town Butcher will help to serve the community in this way.
Grandson of Liberty June 22, 2011 at 08:47 PM
This is part of the president's Executive Order 13575 which supports the UN's "Agenda 21" and was passed while everyone was engrossed in Weinergate. In essence, this is about expanding government control into every aspect of our lives, especially down into the local level. Personally, I have to question the validity of the USDA's report that we have "food deserts" in Fredericksburg. Why does it have to be 1 mile from a "large" grocery store rather than any grocery store - define a large grocery store. In NYC and larger cities, you won't find hardly any large grocery stores, but you will find all manner of small markets. What does the promotion of farmer's markets (the request for $75k in grants) have to do with large grocery stores? Wouldn't these be the equivalent to something less than a very small grocery store? This is just one more instance of our precious resources being swindeled by our government on a non-issue. If there is a true business need, an entrepreneur will invest money to create a business which will give a return on his money - but the least cost effective option is to get government involved, especially at the national level.

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