Archive for Monday, December 19, 2016

Distance, time among barriers to fresh groceries for 24,000 residents in Lawrence food deserts

Lawrence resident Lance Fahy, who is visually impaired, leans in closely to see the labels on packages of ground beef while doing his shopping on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.

Lawrence resident Lance Fahy, who is visually impaired, leans in closely to see the labels on packages of ground beef while doing his shopping on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.

December 19, 2016

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As Lance Fahy does his grocery shopping, there is hustle in his step. He leaves his cart behind as he surveys the length of a meat cooler, stopping his lateral shuffle along its edge here and there to check prices.

He’s got two oversized cloth grocery bags to fill and only about 20 minutes to do it. But he doesn’t check his watch. Fahy says he has the time in his head. It’s a trip he does often — at least twice a week — holding his grocery shopping to 20 minutes so that he doesn’t have to wait another 30 for the next bus.

“It always is close, getting in and out in 20 minutes,” Fahy said. “There have been a couple times when I have walked out that door and seen the bus pulling away.”

Fahy, who is visually impaired, has to get a ride or take the bus to the store from his home in the Pinckney Neighborhood. When he misses the bus home, it makes the nearly two-hour grocery trip even longer.

Fahy is likely one of many residents for whom a convenient stop at the grocery store is elusive. City-wide, more than one-fourth of all Lawrence residents live within a federally designated food desert, a low-income district where the majority of residents live more than 1 mile from a full-service grocery store.

Fahy’s trip this day is to Checkers grocery store, and requires a bus transfer downtown. Each way door-to-door is about 40 minutes. There are grocery stores closer to his house than Checkers, but Fahy, a father of three, said the low-cost grocery is worth the extra bus time for the particular list of items he has today.

Food desert

Fahy is 1 of about 13,000 people in northeastern Lawrence who live in a federally designated food desert, according to Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department data. The other two areas with the designation are in southeast and southwest Lawrence.

Combined, there are about 24,000 people in Lawrence living in a food desert, according to the data. Of those, more than 10,000 live below poverty level.

There are about 24,000 people in Lawrence living in a federally designated food desert,  according to Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department data.

There are about 24,000 people in Lawrence living in a federally designated food desert, according to Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department data.

Though many people think the food desert designation only regards a neighborhood’s distance from a grocery store, health department staff say the income element is just as important.

“It’s particularly hard for people that maybe make less money,” said Charlie Bryan, community health planner. “... Everything is just kind of magnified, in terms of the impact on their lives. You’re more likely to not have a car, or if you do it’s in bad shape or you’re sharing a car.”

Fahy’s house, for instance, is more than a mile from Dillons grocery store on Sixth Street and nearly 4 miles from Checkers.

In areas designated as low-income, more than 20 percent of people live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the data. For instance, a family of four living below 200 percent poverty will earn less than $48,600 in 2016.

Interwoven with the distance and socioeconomic element is the aspect of time — like the two hours it took Fahy to get food for a few meals. Bryan said that especially for people with low income, time can become another barrier.

A waiting game

Time for Fahy, his 20 minutes in the store, is nearly up.

Though Fahy said it's “not the end of the world” if he has to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus, he does have a schedule to keep. He does residential cleaning by the hour, and he has an appointment.

Fahy seems to have his tactics down, and he has tips. He says it’s all about having a plan to follow before you walk into the store. He moves casually around his idling co-shoppers, traversing the aisles with minimal backtracking. This day, Fahy makes it to the bus stop with about four minutes to spare.

In the short time in the store, he’s purchased two bundles of kale, bananas, cooking oil, pumpernickel rolls, a dozen eggs, tortillas, a red onion, dry beans, canned tomatoes, ground hamburger, club soda and three bags of shredded cheese — comparing prices all the while.

He’s overshot his two cloth bags, and has a plastic one looped through his fingers as he waits at the bus stop along 23rd Street in weather that he says could be worse. It’s 25 degrees, but he says it’s better than summer, when refrigerated items heat up quickly.

Lawrence resident Lance Fahy gathers his groceries as he waits for the bus to transport him home from Checkers on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Fahy, who is visually impaired, is unable to drive and lives in the Pinckney neighborhood, which is within one of Lawrence's designated food deserts.

Lawrence resident Lance Fahy gathers his groceries as he waits for the bus to transport him home from Checkers on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Fahy, who is visually impaired, is unable to drive and lives in the Pinckney neighborhood, which is within one of Lawrence's designated food deserts. by Nick Krug

A downtown grocery

Fahy recognizes he’s not alone in his cumbersome grocery trips, and though he is visually impaired, he noted he can still get around quickly and easily compared to some. When people get on and off the bus, he greets some by name, makes small conversation.

“It’s not just my situation,” Fahy said. “I observe a lot of people that are having to spend more time and energy to access healthy food than they really should have to.”

Lawrence resident Lance Fahy, rides the bus home with a couple of bags of groceries from Checkers, 21st and Louisiana, on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Fahy, who is visually impaired, is unable to drive and lives in the Pinckney neighborhood, which is within one of Lawrence's designated food deserts.

Lawrence resident Lance Fahy, rides the bus home with a couple of bags of groceries from Checkers, 21st and Louisiana, on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Fahy, who is visually impaired, is unable to drive and lives in the Pinckney neighborhood, which is within one of Lawrence's designated food deserts.

Fahy said that for him, the healthy aspect is key, especially when feeding his three kids, ages 8, 12 and 15. He said if he wanted to buy packaged food, there are a few gas stations or convenience stores within walking distance from his house.

“If I were just eating junk, I could go down to the gas station," Fahy said.

But that’s not what he wants.

As communication coordinator for the Pinckney Neighborhood Association, Fahy has been representing the area on a downtown grocery store committee for the past year. The committee has been meeting for four years in an effort to get a full-service grocery — with meat, dairy and fresh produce — to locate downtown.

The committee has representatives from several neighborhoods surrounding downtown, East Lawrence, Brookcreek, Old West Lawrence and North Lawrence. Representing the latter is North Lawrence Improvement Association president Ted Boyle.

Boyle has lived in North Lawrence his entire life and remembers the days when there was a grocery store in North Lawrence, when people could walk if they had to or wanted to. A grocery store downtown would help, he said.

“So, this will enable all residents — handicapped, bicyclists, walkers — to be able to get healthy affordable food in any mode of transportation,” Boyle said.

Boyle said the committee, which meets weekly, acts as the “go-between” with downtown grocery store developers and residents of the various neighborhoods that surround downtown.

Though the idea of an upscale grocery story has been talked about, Fahy says he is supportive of a downtown location with a full-service grocery store and pharmacy that would be affordable for everyone.

“I think it would be for the greater good of the community,” Fahy said.

No easy task

Though downtown groceries were commonplace decades ago, getting a developer to locate a grocery store downtown has not moved quickly.

A local development group has been working on the concept for years, but a project has yet to make a development filing with the city.

Plans to redevelop the former Allen Press property at the northeast corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets failed to solidify a couple years ago.

Now the plan is to convert the former Borders bookstore site at 7th and New Hampshire streets into a multistory building that would house a grocery store on the ground floor. But not everyone is behind that idea, in part because the developers are hoping to build much more than a grocery store.

One group has taken the disagreement to the courtroom.

The development group, led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, is being sued by residents of the adjacent Hobbs Taylor Loft building. A main element of the lawsuit is the expansiveness of the project, which would roughly double the size of the former bookstore site. In addition to a grocery store, the developers are hoping to add two levels that would accommodate 82 apartments.

The grocery store project would require multiple city approvals, and it is expected that the development will seek economic incentives from the city.

The city is in the process of overhauling its incentives policy after some public disapproval of past incentives agreements, some of which went to apartments and commercial projects led by Compton.

The downtown grocery committee meets at 9 a.m. on Thursdays in the meeting room at Capital City Bank, 740 New Hampshire St. The committee’s fourth meeting of the month is held at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.

Contact city reporter Rochelle Valverde
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Comments

Tyson Travis 1 year, 2 months ago

Lance busses the three extra miles to Checkers because he can get more there for his limited food dollar. If a grocery were to open in the former Borders, it would likely be a boutique one with high prices, and Lance would still be bussing to Checkers.

Brandon Devlin 1 year, 2 months ago

I thought that Price Chopper was looking to move in there. Did I miss something?

Kent Fisher 1 year, 2 months ago

This story humbles me. I often complain when I have to make several trips per week to my nearby grocery store. Instead, I should be grateful for my ability to do so and not take it for granted. Wishing Lance and others a Merry Christmas.

Charlie Bryan 1 year, 2 months ago

The downtown grocery committee hosts its monthly public meeting at the Lawrence Public Library on the last Thursday of each month. The next public meeting is Thursday, December 29 at 9 a.m. in Meeting Room C. All are welcome.

John Lee 1 year, 2 months ago

On the food desert map, but for the extremities of North, South, and East Lawrence, there are adjacent farmers markets at Clinton Parkway Nursery, Cottin's Hardware, and Downtown. Are there other markets?

In any case, the long-term solution is not more grocery stores. It is transitioning from consumers to producers. A visually impaired person can still grow a lot of food, even at a rented home or apartment. Learning a craft or skill for which one can trade for goods helps as well and, as with growing food, can be done by the visually impaired. I know that those in North Lawrence at least are near farms at which they could likely work trade for some produce and other goods.

Tony Peterson 1 year, 2 months ago

Try reading the article again about what a food desert is.

John Lee 1 year, 2 months ago

"a low-income district where the majority of residents live more than 1 mile from a full-service grocery store"

I'm a certified Permaculture Designer, with my job addressing universal problems in human settlement sustainability, such as food deserts. Fundamentally, food deserts are areas without "food access," rather than the definition above. Low-income often has a lot to do with it, as these individuals and families are more likely to be living in apartments and rentals that might have restrictions in available growing space.

There are plenty of poor farmers in the middle of the country producing so little food for their own consumption that, according to the article's definition, those farmers live in a food desert. However, both the farmers and the city folks could be growing much of their own food, or as I mentioned before they could trade if they had something to offer, but for some reason they do not. They feel driven to maintain their positions as consumers. A paradigm shift to production, or what might be referred to as food responsibility, would do a lot for both.

A grocery store provides a venue for foods with, most times, a high environmental impact -- that is, shipped from California, Chile, China, etc. In any case, not near so fresh (and nutrient dense) as picked from your backyard or the farm down the street.

Brandon Devlin 1 year, 2 months ago

Fundamentally, fine. The USDA defines it as "parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers' markets, and healthy food providers."

I'm not arguing the benefits of home gardening, but in the meantime, a combination of the two would be an ideal situation; the ability to grow some of your own food, and the ability to be able to go to a grocery store within reasonable range of your domicile to get those things you aren't/haven't been able to grow/produce, without having to resort to some sort of medieval/post-apocalyptic barter system.

John Lee 1 year, 2 months ago

"some sort of medieval/post-apocalyptic barter system." That is exactly the paradigm needing altering. Do you believe food responsibility belongs in some other era but our own? If so, why?

In Colorado, I worked for an organic farm, both at the farm and the market, and grew my own food, then knew other farmers and folks growing food with whom I could trade or purchase most of the things I needed, leading to less trips at the store. The practicality of community and raising food is contemporary and necessary, not archaic and bygone, especially for those living at low-income levels.

I like that USDA definition much better BTW.

Tony Peterson 1 year, 2 months ago

It would still be a food desert even if every single person in it had a home garden. That's just supplementing things with extra fruits and vegetables during the growing season.

John Lee 1 year, 2 months ago

Food preservation really has come a long way, Tony. It's not like once winter hits, all food grown disappears. Freezers, dehydrating, canning, etc. In my freezer right now are gallon ziplocks of elderberries from this season, arugula, walnuts, basil pesto cubes and roasted chili pepper cubes from two seasons ago. We get a dozen or two eggs a week from birds we can butcher any time for meat, and store in the freezer if need be.

The food one can grow and otherwise provide themselves is really only limited to the imagination, and it's not limited to just food. There's fuel, timber, medicine, fiber, and forage for animals with countless benefits to the environment in which we live and upon which we depend for survival.

Yolanda Tillman 1 year, 2 months ago

What about the impact of having such a large number of people doing their own home farming on national productivity. How can we continue to live in an economic environment in the US and have millions of people growing their own food? You can't have an industrial/technological country with significant numbers of people also growing their own food at home.

Ken Lassman 1 year, 2 months ago

Don't follow you, Yolanda. When the US was becoming an industrial/technological country, gardening was much more pervasive than it is today. "Victory gardens" became a big part of the local economy at a time of great labor shortage due to WWII, and local access to meat, eggs and dairy was much greater, too.

A strong local food producing economy actually helps the overall economy since the money stays local and is recycled throughout the economy. I remember that the Community Mercantile commissioned a study that looked at the amount of money that would be injected into the local economy if the people in the Kaw Valley grew their own food, using the fantastic soils of the Kaw Valley to raise produce instead of corn and soybeans, and the numbers were pretty impressive. Truck gardens run by commercial producers would be the primary way that this would work, but micro scale/family gardens would play an important part too and in no way interfere with running an "industrial/technological country with significant numbers of people also growing their own food at home."

David Holroyd 1 year, 2 months ago

Why does Mr. Fahy not use the T Lift system. Maybe since the Transit system in Lawrence is broken anyway, just reduce the one way fare on the TLift to $1.00. That would be $2.00 round trip to Checkers. That is going to be much cheaper than any grocery store downtown when all is done and said and especially when the store downtown goes broke.

It is heard at the swap meet that Price Chopper would acquire Checkers and then it, Price Chopper, would be able to establish a downtown store. There is most likely that Price Chopper would not do a stand alone store in downtown Lawrence without another store in Lawrence.

Which is worse? Food desert or Employment aka jobs desert?

Where are the jobs that the Chamber is supposed to be in charge of acquiring, other than staff's jobs , financed by the city for the most part.

Job Desert is the problem.

David Holroyd 1 year, 2 months ago

Why does Mr. Fahy not use the T Lift system. Maybe since the Transit system in Lawrence is broken anyway, just reduce the one way fare on the TLift to $1.00. That would be $2.00 round trip to Checkers. That is going to be much cheaper than any grocery store downtown when all is done and said and especially when the store downtown goes broke.

It is heard at the swap meet that Price Chopper would acquire Checkers and then it, Price Chopper, would be able to establish a downtown store. There is most likely that Price Chopper would not do a stand alone store in downtown Lawrence without another store in Lawrence.

Which is worse? Food desert or Employment aka jobs desert?

Where are the jobs that the Chamber is supposed to be in charge of acquiring, other than staff's jobs , financed by the city for the most part.

Job Desert is the problem.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Yet at the 6th and Wakarusa area city government has over loaded the market in that area which indicates city planning and too many commissioners have no idea what they are doing.

2 dillons

i HyVee

1 Wal-Mart

1 Sprouts

YES 4 basically in each others back yard which has had a negative impact on sales in each store and caused loss of employment = economic displacement = no economic growth.

If the distance of 7th and New Hampshire is 2.5 to 3 miles from Mass street Dillons there is a good chance a grocery store could survive showing a profit.

82 apartments above the store seems extreme to say the least. Why not a two story then establish a work out center and/or a walk in medical clinic?

Bob Forer 1 year, 2 months ago

HyVee is a lot more expensive than Checkers. My guess at least 25 per cent. And when one has four mouths to feed and is on a limited budget, that 25% extra is huge.

Brandon Devlin 1 year, 2 months ago

I think the take away from this article is that anyone who lives on the Northeast side of town or North Lawrence could have a real difficulty in getting groceries. Hopefully the City Commission will approve a plan to build a grocery store somewhere in the near future that will serve that part of our community.

Lets face it. . .the whole point of that lawsuit isn't the size of the building. Go back and read the article about it. What are they really upset about? Some of the apartments will be designated as low-income housing. Boo hoo.

Bob Zielinski 1 year, 2 months ago

Is there a policy at LJW to remove posts and accounts for those people who LJW does not agree with? Just wondering if it is a desk top/internet/service provider issue or if it stems from something more distasteful like limiting opinions to only those from the approved line of thought.

Paul Beyer 1 year, 2 months ago

Feel that any grocery store downtown will be a lot more expensive than any of current grocery stores, Major reason being, it will have much higher real estate costs and will be catering to the apartment and condo dwellers downtown who are not on a very limited budget. Assume if and when the store is built, it will only survive for a very limited number of years, maybe 3 at most.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Removing Checkers from the choices does not seem practical and would be wildly unpopular.

Does Lawrence need 82 more new apartment dwellings?

Is the market over crowded as we speak?

How many empty roof tops are occupying the market as we speak?

There are something like 1000 new such animals coming on to the market as we speak.

Bob Smith 1 year, 2 months ago

Grocery stores typically operate on a very slim profit margin. HyVee is almost certainly not going to be 25% higher than Checkers. Checkers may have cheaper versions of similar items.

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