Legislators Address North Carolina’s Food Deserts
Larry was pleased to represent North Carolina farmers in advocating for the Healthy Corner Store initiative at a breakfast for legislators and the religious community recently. In a press release from the North Carolina Alliance for Health, remarks by Bishop Hope Morgan of the United Methodist Church, Representative Yvonne Holly, Colonel Paul Conner of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base’s Medical Group, and Larry of Peaceful River Farm were highlighted. Larry is quoted as stating,
“Obesity is a crisis in our state. By helping put fresh, local food into corner stores, as well as ensuring stores have the equipment to stock the foods and the tools to market the foods to their customers, we create markets for farmers, like myself, and ensure that communities will have access to healthy, local options.”
In a recent WUNC Radio wrap-up of the budget passed by the NC General Assembly, one reporter expressed his pleasant surprise that the $250,000 Healthy Corner Store Initiative was included. The initiative is a bipartisan measure aimed at addressing our burgeoning obesity epidemic, especially among children, and to broaden access to fresh, locally grown produce and food. There are 1.5 million North Carolinians living in “food deserts” without convenient access to grocery stores.
The NC Alliance for Health sets the cost for our excess weight at $17.6 billion a year in medical costs and lost employee productivity. They estimate that having fresh food more accessible will lower diseases linked to obesity — Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and some kinds of cancer.
While NC’s initiative offers a modest start, if a similar test program begun in 2010 in Philadelphia is a predictor of NC’s success, the impact will be strong. Its success has spread to 600 corner stores now offering fresh, local food throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania – a win/win/win for customers, retailers, and farmers.
In his remarks, Larry also highlighted the success of Saxapahaw General Store, one of Peaceful River Farm’s key customers. The Saxapahaw General Store calls itself a “five-star gas station in the middle of somewhere”. Saxapahaw may be out of the way, but it has been transformed from a declining mill village on the Haw River to a bustling new urbanist community where music, food, river recreation, and community blend in a unique way. Three years ago the General Store attained financial assistance from the Rural Advancement Fund International based in Pittsboro to experiment with providing more local, fresh produce to increase impulse sales near the register. An open cooler was installed, and local, sustainable farms were contacted to help keep the cooler full through the seasons. Their produce was identified with handwritten signs labeling the variety and the farm that produced it. Produce and berry sales grew exponentially according to owners, Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff. Peaceful River Farm’s sales to the General Store saw a similar dramatic increase. Great farm food means great dishes, and the General Store has received recognition from Our State Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The News and Observer, UNC – TV, and Garden and Gun Magazine.
The good news is fresh, healthy food may soon be “right around the corner” for thousands of North Carolina’s rural and urban residents.