Archive for Sunday, January 19, 2014

Extra steps to eat: In Lawrence, nearly 18,000 live in federally designated ‘food desert’

January 19, 2014


East Lawrence resident Lane Eisenbart is pictured with her 7-year-old daughter, Ro O'Leary, and the modified basket bicycle they take to the grocery store. Eisenbart, who doesn't have a car, lives in one of Lawrence's four federally designated food deserts.

East Lawrence resident Lane Eisenbart is pictured with her 7-year-old daughter, Ro O'Leary, and the modified basket bicycle they take to the grocery store. Eisenbart, who doesn't have a car, lives in one of Lawrence's four federally designated food deserts.

The northeast portion of Lawrence is a federally designated food desert. This map shows the four adjacent low-income census tracts where a significant number of residents live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store. More than 125 of those households do not have cars.

The northeast portion of Lawrence is a federally designated food desert. This map shows the four adjacent low-income census tracts where a significant number of residents live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store. More than 125 of those households do not have cars.

Related document

Lawrence food desert map ( .PDF )

East Lawrence resident Lane Eisenbart has heard that, once upon a time, there was a grocery store within a block of her house.

Especially those days when the single mom runs out of eggs mid-week and faces a cold bike ride in the dark to get more, she can’t help but sigh, wouldn’t that have been nice?

“This is my third winter without a car,” Eisenbart said. “I’m really tired of hustling quite so hard for simple things like getting to the grocery store.”

Eisenbart is one of nearly 18,000 northeast Lawrence residents living in a federally designated food desert. The desert — where a combination of low incomes, lack of grocery stores and lack of transportation makes it hard for some residents to get healthy food — stretches from Kasold Drive to the eastern city limits and envelops everything north of the river.

Community planners cite food deserts as a public health obstacle. But greening them up isn’t that simple.

Access to healthy, affordable food emerged as a top concern in a recent survey of county residents, said Christina Holt, chairwoman of LiveWell Lawrence’s Healthy Food for All committee and associate director at Kansas University’s Work Group for Community Health and Development.

“There was story after story,” Holt said. “We had many stories of residents who live in North Lawrence who said they did their grocery shopping at Dollar General because they didn’t have a car and transportation was a hardship for them... Besides the whole physical access to fresh produce, there’s also a financial barrier.”

Low access, low income

When it comes to food deserts, more attention seems to fall on inner-city or remote rural areas, said Shelly Ver Ploeg, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, which developed the mapping tool designating food deserts nationwide.

But Lawrence — classified as urban, though it’s a small city — has large swaths of them.

Four adjacent low-income census tracts have a significant number of people who live at least a mile from the nearest supermarket, according to the USDA Food Access Research Atlas. Of those people, more than 3,000 are low-income, more than 2,000 are children and more than 720 are seniors. About 130 of their households don’t have cars.

In North Lawrence, none of the 2,800-plus residents lives within a mile of a full-service grocery, according to the data.

Since USDA designations are based primarily on census data, they account for children and seniors but not other common factors that might hinder access to food, such as disabilities, Ver Ploeg said.

‘Basket bike’ v. food desert

Eisenbart hopes she’ll be able to buy a car after she gets her tax return.

In the meantime, it’s her and her “basket bike” versus the food desert.

Eisenbart, who lives in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Street, occasionally takes side roads to Checkers at 23rd and Louisiana streets but does most of her shopping at Dillons at 18th and Massachusetts streets because it’s closer, a mile from home.

Walking is hard to schedule because it takes so long, she said, and she’s found the bus unreliable. She rides a lighter-weight bike to work at KU, but her grocery-getter has a shopping cart basket welded to the frame, a custom creation of Lawrence’s Farnsworth Bicycle Laboratory.

She’s still exposed to the elements — darkness, icy roads, bad weather, bad drivers and just being tired — but, Eisenbart said, it’s nice that her basket is big enough to hold all the groceries she can afford when she does make the trip, about every week and a half.

Eisenbart said she plans meals and shopping trips ahead and tries hard to prioritize healthy, whole foods for herself, her 7-year-old and her 12-year-old. Sometimes in the summer she walks to the downtown farmers market, just under a mile away, where she’ll pay a little extra when she can for the high-quality produce there.

“It’s always a balance between what’s inexpensive and what’s good for me,” Eisenbart said. “It’s especially important because of my daughters ... I want them to experience a lot of fresh foods.”

An East Lawrence developer wants to bring in a grocery store of some kind on Eisenbart’s street, but so far nothing has materialized.

Without one, having a car sure would make getting food easier, Eisenbart said. She’d love to be able to just — what is it people say? — “run to the store” and get those eggs.

“Every day, I’m hustling to get what I need,” she said. “I’m just making it happen.”

Lawrence food deserts by the numbers

The following four Lawrence census tracts are federally designated food deserts, with low access defined as living one mile or more from the nearest supermarket.

North Lawrence

Population 2,847

Low-access residents: 2,847 (100 percent)

Low-access and low-income residents: 1,231 (43 percent)

Low-access households without vehicles: 54 (5 percent)

East of Massachusetts Street, north of 19th/23rd streets

Population 6,819

Low-access residents: 1,943 (29 percent)

Low-access and low-income residents: 734 (11 percent)

Low-access households without vehicles: 34 (1 percent)

Kasold Drive to Iowa Street, Sixth Street to Interstate 70

Population 5,079

Low-access residents: 1,753 (35 percent)

Low-access and low-income residents: 309 (6 percent)

Low-access households without vehicles: 25 (1 percent)

Iowa Street to Kansas River, Sixth Street to I-70

Population 3,227

Low-access residents: 1,900 (59 percent)

Low-access and low-income residents: 812 (25 percent)

Low-access households without vehicles: 18 (1 percent)


Population 17,972

Low-access residents: 8,443 (47 percent)

Low-access and low-income residents: 3,086 (17 percent)

Low-access households without vehicles: 131 (less than 1 percent of total housing units)

(Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Access Research Atlas, 2013,


Rae Hudspeth 4 years, 5 months ago

Kasold Drive to Iowa Street, Sixth Street to Interstate 70

There is a Dillon's at 6th and Lawrence Ave, which would cover a mile of surrounding neighborhood that the graphic shows. I don't think I understand how this graphic was created, as least as far as that particular area.

Sara Shepherd 4 years, 5 months ago

Hi Rae, that area represents a census tract. While not every resident in the tract lives more than mile from the store, a significant number does (as determined by the USDA). They add in other factors, such as income and people living a half-mile from a grocery, before designating it a food desert. The USDA's interactive graphic (sourced above) has a lot more detail if you want to check it out: Hope this helps! -Sara Shepherd, LJW

Eric Dawson 4 years, 5 months ago

Hi, Sara. Citing Rae's question and following your response, this story has proven to be a classic example of how valid data can be misused (intentionally or not) to demonstrate a problem where one does not exist, to the detriment of those that are actually in the presented situation. I examined the details for the census tract cited at the USDA map you noted. Less than 1.6% of the households in that tract (34 of 2142) that are more than 1/2 mile from the store do not have a vehicle, and from a simple Google map check, all households in that tract are less than 2 miles from the Dillons in question. Calling that tract a food desert under those circumstances is ridiculous and weakens the argument being made for true food deserts (i.e., all claims made based on the data presented now become suspect). NE Lawrence across the river is a true food desert these days. As one who used to live there, still remembers shopping at the Rusty's IGA that was there, and still has family living in that part of town, I can tell you that a grocery store is missed there, but the location is simply not an economically viable one (as many businesses of many kinds have discovered since I first arrived in Lawrence 34 years ago). So what should be done to address the issue? Volunteer help, bus routes, etc.? Bottom line -- If you had mentioned in your story the shortcomings of the criteria used to label a census tract a "food desert", fewer critical readers would have been inclined to discount the data -- and the issue -- being presented.

Rae Hudspeth 4 years, 5 months ago

I think it's ridiculous to consider the area from N. Iowa to Kasold, all of which is surrounding the Country Club, as "low-income/low-access", and including it as represented in the article. The low access and most likely majority of the low income households are in the apartments behind Dillon's, with a possibility of including the nursing home on Peterson Road skewing the stats only slightly. The USDA map breakdown shows only 34 of 2142 total households(1.6%, not 35% as stated in the article under the breakdown by neighborhood) without vehicles that are more than one-half mile from a supermarket. I wonder if those 34 households are the assisted living quarters, and a few Section 8 duplexes off Peterson road? I know that when I drove for Independence Inc, I used to pick up and drop off a few residents at the grocery store on a regular basis, so they do have access on demand, even if they don't own a vehicle. Obviously, the USDA is unaware of that.

Julius Nolan 4 years, 5 months ago

Sorry mike, but this idea does nothing to solve problem of the food desert. This is just a way to make money for a few entrepreneurs.

Beator 4 years, 5 months ago

Do you feel the same about entrepreneurial grocery stores as a way to make money too?

Here is some non profits for your deserts. Problem is, it takes money to supply them with food.

Here are some non profits for Lawrence.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 5 months ago

The bus is not unreliable! That is a really bad excuse and I am not buying it. It would not be difficult for her to go to 11th and New Jersey and take the number 11 bus which has a stop at a Dillions and Natural Foods as well as the South Walmart and Target. It would cost her a dollar each way and trust me, I ride this bus all the time and it will get her to the store and back and on schedule which is to say the bus schedule. She can even put her bicycle on the bus if she would prefer to use the basket on it to hold her purchases.

I do understand the concept of food desert but people also have to stop and take some thought about the best ways to achieve what they did to. We should all help each other to do this.

4 years, 5 months ago

She could also walk one block to the Hobb's Park stop for Rt 1. It could drop her off 20 minutes later at 17th and Barker, just one block from the Mass St. Dillons. There are ways. But as someone who used to rely solely on bikes and buses, I totally get where she's coming from. However, the city just isn't big enough to sustain a grocery store every few blocks. If only a few hundred or maybe 1'000 people are going to shop there, how are they going to make any profit?

Rae Hudspeth 4 years, 5 months ago

So that's four blocks of walking, two of them with how many bags of a week's worth of groceries in her arms AND watching a small child at the same time.
Sure, that's easy enough!.. not. I suggest we all get an idea of how that feels by parking at the farthest corner of the parking lot and remember to carry all our bags from the checkout to the car.. no cheating and using the shopping cart, you have to carry them on and off a bus, remember? Let's do that once or twice a week, because remember, it takes three to four times longer to make that trip on a bus or walking than it does to hop into your car and drive to the store, so figure it into your available time each week as well. An extra trip because.. oops, you couldn't carry everything you needed on your weekly trip is going to cost you another hour of time just to make two 20 min bus trips and the four block walks for each time you need to "just run out for some milk or bread". Don't forget to take a small child or two along as well, and remember that they get tired and grumpy.
Now consider that trip with a less-abled body, maybe a cane to walk or see with, and an even slower pace of ambulation, or ability to carry more than a sack or two. Ouch.

Phil Minkin 4 years, 5 months ago

I don't own a car, but since like to walk, walking to and from my home at 8th and Indiana to Dillons on Mass. isn't too big of a problem. However,there are people who live farther or aren't able to walk who have a problem with the lack of a centrally located grocery store. The old Borders could serve N. and E. Lawrence as well as OWL and those living downtown. Sign the petition:

Clark Coan 4 years, 5 months ago

In about 1960 there were about 16 corner grocery stores in Lawrence. There were at least two in every neighborhood. I remember some of them . I would ride my bike to them to buy candy bars for 5 cents.

Aldi's is opening a store in the food desert east of Troost in KCMO. It's at 39th & Prospect. Seems like they got a tax subsidy of some sort.

William Enick 4 years, 5 months ago

Aldi's would be a great idea! Lets tell them they are needed, NOW!

Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 5 months ago

This is a very important area for discussion.

The comment above by Terry Lee makes fun of what for many people is a crucial matter, especially in bad weather.

Scott Morgan 4 years, 5 months ago

I see employees at Dillons and have seen others over the years loading up groceries for deliveries. Does this not happen anymore?

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 5 months ago

Yes it does and Checkers will also deliver but the fee is too much for some people. It makes sense that that charge a fee because someone has to pay for the gas and I am assuming the employee gets paid for this as part of their job. Stores can't do this for free.

Those over fifty might consider calling Senior Ride. They do a good job of getting people where they need to go and it is three dollars each way.

The T/KU bus is public and serves the entire Lawrence community so it simply cannot be tailored to fit the needs of the individual. People must be willing to make some accomadation.

Rae Hudspeth 4 years, 5 months ago

Keep in mind that for a senior on SSI, with perhaps only a very small budget for food, medicine and necessities, six dollars a trip twice a week is $48 a month. Quite frankly, some people don't have that much wiggle room in a budget. It could mean less food in the belly. Independence Inc was a no-fee possibility at one time, I don't know if they still do that? Of course, they and Senior Ride are subsidized by tax dollars and Kansas has put so many cuts on human services like them that I'm not sure they are still able to offer the service as in the past. :(

Lane Eisenbart 4 years, 5 months ago

I thank you all sincerely, friends and neighbors, for your kindness. Your offers -- rides, grocery money, eggs -- abound and warm my heart. I am glad to live in such a generous community. Thank you.

But, I think many are missing the point of this, and the following article. It's not about me. This is not about whether or not i could take a bus, or get a car, or find a ride, etc. This is not about whether or not I have eggs. This is about my access to eggs. This about access to healthy food for all, and the possibility of creating a town, a society, that doesn't rely so heavily on auto-transport. This is about being more conscientious in the way we construct our city (with an eye to the needs of everyone) how we consume resources, and, essentially, how we live. it's about looking at things, simple things, like getting groceries, from someone else's perspective. Just read it. and the next one. and the one after that. and so on. and think about it for a little while. just for a minute. that's all anyone is asking you to do.
think. re-think.

Scott Morgan 4 years, 5 months ago

In no way am I minimizing lack of mobility, a fear all of us in the over the hill crowd thinks about.

The Atlantic Magazine just had a feature on the high price of being poor. Pardon the pun, but food for thought.

NSTAAFL Knew I use that horrible Econ 101 course someday. No such thing as a free lunch, somebody has to pay. Owning and operating a vehicle legally (all insurance and fees) comes to quite a bit of change. Sadly, the poor face even more costs in most cases due to costly repairs. They get hit coming and going.

Operating a vehicle is much less than a delivery charge.

For those who really need it, seems like the fees could be paid by United Way, or some other non government agency.

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