Health Team

Government would step in where grocers are few

Posted May 27, 2011 2:03 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2011 11:05 p.m. EDT

— Healthier food might soon be coming to a corner store near you, thanks to an initiative by local, state and federal governments to bring better eating options to areas without grocery stores.

Those who live along Angier Avenue in east Durham can buy food, but most of it is not very healthy. A mini mart sells candy and snacks, and a diner features a one-pound hot dog.

The federal government calls places like this "food deserts."

"All the grocery stores have left, and all that people have access to is what's in a convenience store," said Sheree Vodicka, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Division of Public Health.

Find food deserts across the U.S.

Grocery stores typically carry more fresh fruits and vegetables and healthier food than convenience stores.

"If you can't get to them, you can't choose those foods," Vodicka said.

But things are on changing on Angier Avenue.

Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers opened a grocery store there a year ago. It's become part of a new state effort to work with stores to bring fruits and vegetables to those food deserts.

The TROSA store manager said that business is brisk and people are buying healthier foods.

"The community realizes that they have access, that they have resources," said David Reese, co-chair of Partnership for a Healthy Durham.

People also get lessons on how to cook fresh vegetables from the county health department.

"A lot of people may have been raised not eating it in the healthiest way, so we're trying to teach people to cook things quick and easy," nutritionist Kelly Warnock said.

But the program is about more than improving human health. Organizers hope it will bring back some big grocery stores to improve the community's economic health.

Durham County is working with another corner store as part of this pilot project.

"Part of this is helping to create a market and helping large corporations realize there is a market," Reese said.