City searching for solutions to New Town food desert

Meeting discusses programs in place to combat nutrition shortfall, need for long-term solutions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City leaders are still looking for solutions to food deserts.

On Thursday, Jacksonville City Council members and other organizations met virtually to explore some short- and long-term solutions to food deserts, or areas with less or no access to fresh, healthy food.

One of those areas is the New Town neighborhood near Edward Waters College.

“This is a food desert without fresh fruit, fresh vegetables,” said Marcia Ellison, a 19-year resident of the New Town neighborhood. “That’s the health issue.”

Ellison said she’s very aware of the difficulty accessing fresh, healthy food -- something that the area stores that do sell food just don’t carry.

“They have processed food,” she said. “Those things don’t do nothing but introduce you to heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes.”

In 2017, EWC conducted a study on food deserts in Jacksonville. It showed areas like New Town reported more health problems, including obesity and high blood pressure.

When City Council members met with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Feeding Northeast Florida and others on Thursday, they discussed programs already in place to combat the nutrition shortfall.

One of those programs is Door to Store, which was launched a year ago and provides a shuttle service to residents of food deserts. But a recent report by the Florida Times-Union showed that the Door to Store shuttle program didn’t actually include the New Town neighborhood. In Thursday’s meeting, there was talk of expanding the area of that program to include the New Town. City Councilman Ron Salem said that expansion would require more legislation, but he said they hope to fast-track this as just an addition to the existing program.

Another initiative is food pantries like the one by Feeding Northeast Florida that’s open twice a month right outside of the New Town neighborhood.

“We try to make sure that we give fresh vegetables, as much as we possibly can, and fruits, so that we can have a healthy lifestyle,” said Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church Pastor Lee Harris.

Robert McPhee, a resident of the New Town area, said: “They have sometimes vitamins and stuff like that, and I’m a diabetic, so I need all the fresh vegetables I can get.”

There’s also a program run by the New Town Success Zone called the Urban Farmacy, a quarter-acre community garden on land provided by EWC. Fresh produce is grown there in an effort to provide nutrition where it’s needed most.

City Council members praised these programs but said long-term solutions are needed.

Ellison agreed, saying the stakes couldn’t be higher.

If a long-term solution is not found, she said, “People are gonna die.”


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