SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP)-For most of us, when we’re hungry we go to the kitchen and prepare a meal. But for over 700-thousand Massachusetts residents, access to fresh, healthful and affordable foods is a daily struggle.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has identified areas where people don’t have access to fresh, healthful and affordable foods as FOOD DESERTS.
The 22News I-Team has discovered there are several of them in Western Massachusetts, including Springfield.
“A food desert is an area that is more than one mile away from a major supermarket where you can get affordable and nutritious foods, an urban area. And in a rural area, it could be as far as 10 miles away,” explains Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
According to the USDA website, “instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, the only available food comes from fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy and affordable options. Reduced access to fresh food contributes to a poor diet and can lead to obesity and diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”
Another food desert indicator is they are usually in neighborhoods where residents are poor and lack adequate transportation. The Mason Square neighborhood in Springfield is considered a food desert. Wanda Givens is the Director of the Mason Square Health Task Force. She sees first hand how a lack of access to nutritious food affects a community. She says transportation is a big issue. If you don’t have a car or you can’t get someone to drive you, the only alternative is to take a cab or the bus.
“You have to take two, sometimes three buses to get to the grocery store. There’s a bag limit on the number of bags you can carry on the bus. So it becomes very prohibiting for people to get access to healthy food,” said Givens. According to the PVTA, each rider is limited to three bags.
Too often residents, like Tasha Moultrie-Phillips’ elderly mother, use convenience stores because they’re within walking distance. But, they don’t provide much fresh or affordable food.
“We don’t have a full line grocery store in our community that would take off some of the burden as far as the price because she is shopping on a budget. She’s on a fixed income and she’s spending more money at a corner store versus a grocery store,” said Moultrie-Phillips.
Since 2005 The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Mason Square Food Justice Initiative and the Mason Square Health Task Force have been working with other community organizations to bring in a full-line grocery store. A full-line grocery store carries a large selection of fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh-baked goods, meats, fish and a delicatessen. It’s part of the city’s master plan that includes the State Street Corridor Improvement Program and the 2012 Rebuild Springfield Plan, according to Jay Minkarah, President and CEO of DevelopSpringfield. He says a grocery store in Mason Square would serve a large section of the city.
“Realistically, you have to think about where you’re going to position that within the community to have the maximum impact. So, while we say Mason Square, which is four neighborhoods, this is also going to serve downtown area, metro center, it will serve south end, Maple Heights, Six Corners,” said Minkarah.
Currently, property between Oak and Walnut Streets along State Street has been eyed as the potential site for the full line grocery store. Wanda Givens says because of the cultural diversity of the neighborhood, they are soliciting ideas from the community about what they need.
“We’re actually working with the community to get feed back on the type of grocery store they would like, what kind of foods they would want in the grocery store,” said Givens.
Project planners are actively seeking financing and a supermarket vendor.
For more information on the proposed full-line grocery store in Mason Square, log on to this link:
For more information on food deserts and a locator map for Massachusetts, log on to this link: