LA CROSSE, Wis. -

As many of us are picking up groceries this week to prepare for Thanksgiving, some people in the area are having a hard time getting to the grocery store in the first place.

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, or 10 miles or more from a grocery store in rural areas.

In just La Crosse and Monroe counties, there are two in the city of La Crosse, and two located around Sparta and Tomah.

In the part of La Crosse Sandra Harris lives in, 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 was close,” Harris said.

Like almost 20 percent of the people living in the Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood, Harris doesn't have a vehicle.

So without a grocery store within walking distance, Harris takes a bus, but she said that’s a hassle.

“Carrying the bags on my own. I have no help,” she said.

It's been years since P-P-H was home to a grocery store.

"We see this in a lot of different retail services. The momentum is to get fewer and bigger,” La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said. “When you get into cities, and the heart of neighborhoods, the numbers for them as far as traffic counts and stuff go don't add up."

Along with neighborhoods by UW-La Crosse, an area by Gundersen Health System including the P-P-H neighborhood is one of two USDA-defined food deserts in the county, encompassing almost 1,800 households.

Living just outside P-P-H,Laura Field said 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,” she said.

Because of her location, Field said 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 go bad,” she said.

Beyond inconvenience, food deserts raise some real health concerns.

"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,” epidemiologist at Gundersen, Brenda Rooney, said.

Those in food deserts don't have the same access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

"A lot of evidence is showing getting fruits and vegetables will reduce chronic disease, including obesity which two out of three of us as adults are experiencing,” Brenda Lutz Hanson, La Crosse County health educator, said.

Convenience stores can help fill the gap, but they often lack a variety of fresh produce, and can be tough on the pocketbook.

"They have good stuff, but they don't have everything I need,” Field said.

"Their prices are so high, I really wouldn't want to buy nothing in there,” Harris said.

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.

"Which is way more expensive,” she said.

In Monroe County, there are two food deserts identified by the USDA, one around Tomah, and one in the city of Sparta.