Monday, February 10, 2014

Rural Ohio county loses only grocery; residents struggle to buy fresh produce and meat

Food deserts have become all too common problem in rural areas. Mary Beth Lane of the Columbus Dispatch takes a look at an Appalachian county that recently became one. Vinton County (Wikipedia map) has 450 square miles and more than 13,000 residents, but has had no grocery store since Sept. 1, 2013. Some residents must drive at least 30 miles to find one.

State Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Gallia County) has been trying to help the county attract a grocer. He told Lane, “It’s hard to fathom not having a grocery store in your entire county. We are trying to make Ohioans healthier. That’s pretty hard to do when you’re not able to purchase fresh produce and fresh meat.”

Trying to get businesses to open in the area has been tough. Commissioner Jerry Zinn told Lane, “We contacted every chain you can imagine. The only one who called back with any interest was Kroger [based in Cincinnati]. They dropped interest after learning our demographics." The county has a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, ninth highest in the state, and 21.4 percent of residents live below the poverty line, Lane notes.

The last grocery store, which made home deliveries and employed 36 people, had been in operation since 1986. But after the store's owner died, his widow closed the store, fearing the local Dollar General store would sell groceries, Lane reports. That didn't happen. Now, many senior citizens don't have the ability to travel long distances for groceries. The Vinton County Senior Citizens agency has tried to help, taking about 20 people a month on grocery shopping trips. But without a grocery store, the county is struggling. Dr. Pat Speck, a 74-year-old retired veterinarian, who drives 17 miles to Kroger or 30 miles to Aldi, told Lane, “It was a great loss to lose that supermarket. I am sure that everybody in the community feels the same.” (Read more)

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