According to Baltimore City officials, one fifth of city residents live in a food desert (a neighborhood with little access to fresh and healthy food). That’s a full 125,000 people who’ll have a greater risk for obesity and health problems in part because they don’t have access to affordable, nutritious things to eat. Lucky for us, the city is tackling the problem head on, starting with a new map showing the on-the-ground reality of food deserts in Baltimore (can you spot the typo?) and extending to all sorts of innovative and ambitious programs to get fresh food into all corners of the city. Here are a few that we find particularly interesting:
1) Baltimarket. I tend to think of online grocery ordering as something that only rich people and/or New Yorkers do, but the folks behind Baltimarket are trying to change that perception. Aimed at residents of low-income neighborhoods, senior living facilities, and public housing — people who might find themselves quite far from a good grocery store — Baltimarket allows shoppers to order groceries online and get them delivered later in the week… for no fee. For those who don’t have easy access to the internet, the group hosts sessions at public libraries to facilitate ordering. “What’s brilliant about this program is it doesn’t cost a lot of money,” says Laura Fox, the group’s coordinator.
2) Partnerships between community farms and corner stores. According to a recent New York Times article, the problem is not that folks in food deserts don’t have access to food — it’s that they don’t have access to cheap, healthy food. Rather than attempting to bring more grocery stores to underserved Baltimore neighborhoods, a new initiative is bringing locally-grown vegetables into the high-traffic corner stores that are already there. Last month, we wrote about a couple stores where this pilot program is taking place.
3) Healthifying Lexington Market. I love Lexington Market for its Berger cookies and Faidley’s crab cakes and mac and cheese; I have never, however, thought of it as a place to get healthy food. But now, spurred by the city, ten of the market’s vendors have signed on to a program where they offer new lower-fat/calorie/sugar menu items. These healthier options are designated by a green leaf icon, and are (at least for now) subsidized and promoted by city funds. “I’m not suggesting people will completely alter their diet,” Caspar Genco, the market’s general manager, told the Baltimore Sun. “But I am saying that when you give a person a visual indication of an item that would be healthier than other items, at least a portion of the time people are going to choose the healthier option.”