As many of us are picking up groceries this week to
prepare for a big Thanksgiving feast.
some people in the area are having a hard time getting
to the grocery store any time of the year.
In tonight's 'News 8 Investigates' report .
Madalyn O'Neill introduces us to an issue in our area
known as food deserts.
Thousands of people in the area live in a food desert.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines
food deserts as a low-income area where a significant
amount of people live a mile or more from the nearest
traditional supermarket in a city.
and 10 miles from a grocery store in rural areas.
I looked into food deserts in La Crosse and Monroe
In the city of La Crosse, there are two .
and in Monroe county, there are also two, located
around Sparta and Tomah.
Some of you may think that means people just have
to drive a little farther .
But for people who don't have a car, which is more
likely in these low-income neighborhoods.
getting to the grocery store can be real problem.
In this part of La Crosse .
there are no supermarkets in sight.
To tell you the truth a lot of people around here
tell you the same thing.
They wish there was a grocery store around here that
Like almost 20 percent of the people living in the
Powell Poage Hamilton neighborhood, Sandra Harris
doesn't have a vehicle.
So without a grocery store within walking distance,
she does what she has to do to get to one.
But she says that's a hassle.
Carrying the bags on my own.
I have no help.
It's been years sincethe P-P-H was home to a grocery
Mayor Tim Kabat
We see this in a lot of different retail services.
The momentum is to get fewer and bigger .
When you get into heart of neighborhoods, the numbers
for them as far as traffic counts and stuff go don't
Along with neighborhoods by UW-La Crosse, this area
by Gundersen Health system including the P-P-H neighborhood
is one of two USDA-defined food deserts in the county
encompassing almost 18 hundred households.
Living just outside P-P-H, .
Laura Field says there's no convenient grocery store
by her home.
Well Festival is somewhat close, but it's still, I
wouldn't be able to walk.
I wouldn't be able to bike there.
Because of her location, Field says she only makes
a grocery shopping trip once a month .
and that limits what she buys.
I don't want to buy a bunch of produce and have it
Beyond inconvenience, food deserts raise some real
Food is a basic need for us all, and if you don't
have access to affordable food you're either going
hungry or eating bad food.
Those in food deserts don't have the same access to
fresh fruits and vegetables.
A lot of evidence is showing getting fruits and veggies
in will reduce chronic disease, including obesity
which 2 out of 3 of us as adults are experiencing.
Convenience stores can *help* fill the gap.
They have good stuff but they don't have everything
They often lack a variety of fresh produce .
and can be tough on the pocketbook.
Their prices are so high, I really wouldn't want to
buy nothing in there.
Monroe County residents like Staar Mickelson face
the same problem.
She doesn't always have access to a car .
and often finds herself picking up food at a gas station
just down the street from her home.
Yes, which is way more expensive.
In Monroe county, there are two food deserts identified
by the USDA .
one around Tomah, and one in the city of Sparta.
According to county health rankings, about 5 percent
of Monroe County's population is low income and lives
far from a grocery store.
Which doesn't sound like a lot, but that's over 2,388
If you take Sparta for instance .
if transportation is problem, maybe you can't get
to the grocery store which is on the side of town
and if you're trying to walk, trying to get back with
groceries, it's not la crosse with a bus.
You might have to call cab which is an added expense
to get to those fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mickelson lives in Sparta, and says her choices are
limited when it comes to grocery shopping.
If we dont have a vehicle or if I don't have a ride
so theres the transportation issue.
So if she has to head to a convenience store in a
pinch, that means healthy foods can't be at the top
of her shopping list.
Its less food so it's pretty limited to what you can
Monroe county officials have identified low access
to fruits and vegetables as a problem in the county
and the Sparta School district food pantry helps address
that by helping families like Mickelson's.
NAT: do you want produce? um yeah.
we'll do..oh there's tangerines.
We're getting help with having meals and they're more
Those in La Crosse food desert aren't deserted, either.
There are already food pantries in the city .
and officials are working on a permanent fix in the
We're looking at solutions, looking for opportunities
to look at what options are available, whether it's
a farmers market or grocer to come into neighborhood
It's a collaborative effort among the neighborhood
group there, Gundersen, the city.
The PPH neighborhood has been the target for a variety
of revitalization efforts over the past few years
and now the focus is on a grocery store.
Having an opportunity for people to have that basic
need of healthy food being met is an important part
of that neighborhood effort.
City and health officials say the sooner the neighborhood
can get a grocery store, the better.
We're so much a result of where we live and where
we work and that's our environment, so if everyday
you live in a place where you don't have access to
affordable food .
you're not going to be healthy.
So its just real important we create a healthy environment
In this food desert, it doesn't seem to be a mirage:
A future with a neighborhood grocery store is within
It would be great for me,
if we had one in our neighborhood,
that would be great.
That would be awesome.
In LaX, MO, N8
La Crosse's Mayor Tim Kabat says they're currently
looking at different examples from other places in
the country that have food deserts .
and are working on locking down a development site.
Realistically, he says the soonest construction on
a potential grocery store would start is likely 20-18.
In the mean time, Mayor Kabat suggested free bus rides
for people heading to the grocery store .
and WAFER is starting up their mobile food pantry
to help those who have limited transportation.
La Crosse and Monroe counties aren't the only areas
with food deserts.
Much of rural Jackson and Vernon counties have the
U-S-D-A designation of food desert as well.