Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Grocery closures turn rural towns into food deserts (10 mi. from a store) but some reopen old ones or start new ones

From unincorporated Winchester, Iowa, Jack Healy of The New York Times reports, "Farm towns like Winchester that produce beef, corn and greens to feed the world are becoming America’s unlikeliest food deserts as traditional grocery stores are forced out of business by fewer shoppers and competition from dollar-store chains. Their exodus has left rural towns worried about how they can hold on to families, businesses and their future if there is nowhere to buy even a banana."

"It’s the story of every small town," said lawyer John Paul Coonrod, 35, who started a community grocery store. "It’s a domino effect, and it starts with the grocery store." Noting closures of hospitals close and schools consolidation of schools, Healy writes, "Residents say losing their grocery stores amounts to losing a de facto town square where they catch up on gossip and check on their neighbors."

Nancy McCloud, "who scraped together $200,000 in personal loans and crowd-funded contributions to buy and reopen a closed supermarket in Mountainair, N.M.," told Healy: "It’s more important than just my little grocery store. It adds to the destruction of rural America — not supporting rural farmers or rural people."

Healy writes, "The loss of grocery stores can feel like a cruel joke when you live surrounded by farmland. About 5 million people in rural areas have to travel 10 miles or more to buy groceries, according to the Department of Agriculture. Dollar-store chains selling cheap food are entering hundreds of small towns, but their shelves are mostly stocked with frozen, refrigerated and packaged foods. Local health officials worry that the flight of fresh foods will only add to rural America’s health problems by exacerbating higher rates of heart disease and obesity."

Healy adds, "Many of the places losing their grocery stores are conservative towns that value industrial agriculture and low taxes. About 75 percent of the people in the county containing Winchester voted for President Trump. But people in these communities have also approved public money to kick-start local markets, and they are supporting co-ops whose cloth-bag values and hand-stuffed packs of arugula can feel more Berkeley than Mayberry."

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