Canton’s food desert gets much needed rain

This spring Canton became a sort of crucible testing the concept of “food deserts”. (That’s “desert” as in dry, not “dessert” as in delicious!)

Food deserts are a hot topic in the worlds of obesity/nutrition and the locavore movement.   Basically, millions of Americans in low income urban or rural communities have to travel a long way to find healthy food, especially plentiful fruits and vegetables.  More often than not, they don’t.  Instead, they eat easier to find, less healthy processed foods.

Canton’s supermarket was closed for two months, and the community became a food desert.  (A quick shout-out here to Nature’s Storehouse, a small grocery/health food store that offers fresh produce and healthy food, that stood as the exception.  (full disclosure – my wife works there.))

Interviewing folks at the new Price Chopper, which opened Monday, everyone I talked to mentioned how hard it was to get the fresh fruits and vegetables they wanted.  People like Bob and Candace Cowser.

My experience was similar to the Cowsers.  We ate out more.  We dug deeper into the pantry’s canned foods and the freezer’s frozen foods.  It was frustrating.  But we know how to cook.  And, as I say above, my wife works at a small grocery.

The reality is it’s an effort for people in rural areas to get produce most of the year (summer’s the easiest, when the harvest provides a bounty).  Supermarkets are a long drive away.  Processed foods save trips and, as we’ve noted before, money.

Maps drawn based on research done on food deserts show much all of the North Country to be a rural food desert – even with all the supermarkets open.

But the last two months brought that reality into sharp relief.

Is there any fix to this?  It’s not like you can build supermarkets every ten miles on county routes.  Are rural areas destined to be food deserts except when the harvest comes in?

4 Comments on “Canton’s food desert gets much needed rain”

  1. Dan says:

    It’s so hard to find natural, unprocessed food. It’s no wonder so many young people only know how to throw stuff in the mic (or oven, if their reall sophisticated). So much sodium and other unnecessary, unhealthy junk.

    My wife has a saying: “If I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I don’t want to eat it.”

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  2. Bret4207 says:

    Super Walmart is what? 10 minutes from the former P+C location in Canton? Sorry, 10 minutes by car, which I’d guess 99% of Canton and the North Countries residents have access to, is hardly a qualifier for a “food desert”. In fact, the term food desert is a bit insulting to me. I mean no offense David, but isn’t this the same blog that cries out against urban sprawl and suburban sprawl and glories in the joys of the North Country? And then you moan about the lack of fresh produce because you have to drive 10 minutes to get to a store?

    I know this will be taken as a crotchety old guy being contrary, but I sense a lack of consistency in this argument.

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  3. David Sommerstein says:

    Hey Bret –

    I hear what you’re saying…Walmart is 10 miles down the road.

    I’m just making a personal observation that others in Canton also experienced – it was much harder to eat healthy foods when a year-round place to buy fruits and vegetables is a distance away from your home or work.

    I have no idea what to do about rural food deserts, to be honest. It’s a question I’m interested in asking the people who study this stuff. You’re absolutely right that we don’t want to build strip malls with supermarkets all over the rural landscape.

    But the fact is northern New York is a very unhealthy place – well above the national average in obesity rates. Addressing this problem is key to our economic and social future as a region.

    One factor is accessibility to healthy food.

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  4. Bret4207 says:

    David, aren’t you assuming that people will “eat healthy” if given the choice? My experience would indicate people will eat what tastes good, is convenient and inexpensive. Many folks just aren’t bothered by an extra 30-50 lbs. It’s their decision on what they do about it isn’t it?

    “But the fact is northern New York is a very unhealthy place – well above the national average in obesity rates. Addressing this problem is key to our economic and social future as a region.”

    Huh? Obesity will determine our economic and social future? Why do I sense a push to legislate eating habits would set well in your mind?

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