According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, roughly 2% of U.S. citizens have trouble accessing supermarkets. They either live too far away, or don't have a car. This low access can be a result of barren areas that experts call food deserts. Some say you might live in one. We traveled around Rockford for an in-depth look at who might be starving for options.
The USDA's Economic Research Service breaks down nationwide food deserts by counties. It reports almost 25% of Winnebago County's population has limited access to major grocery stores. 7% of residents are low-income and low-access. Our area's elected leaders say they know exactly where the Forest City turns into a desert.
"There very definitely is and in particular on the west side of Rockford. There's really nothing at all." -says Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen.
Rockford 5th Ward Alderman Venita Hervey adds, "Parts of southwest Rockford are kind of like the Sahara. It's just vast."
Based on dieticians' recommendations for an individual's daily food intake, healthy options can be found at west Rockford grocery stores, but there's a price difference. For items like meats, fruits, vegetables, grain and dairy, you'll spend around $45 at smaller stores, like the Rockford Guanajuato on Marchesano Drive and Almart on West State Street. Bigger companies like Aldi, Chiquita and Walmart charge closer to $30. Almart's owner says he has to charge more to stay in business. He tries to keep prices low, but says bigger stores have an advantage.
Rockford Mass Transit District says it can help you get to options all over town. In fact, a west Rockford grocery is on one of the city's fastest routes.
"The best and easily accessible one, that would be in the shortest amount of time, would be the Chiquita on South Main Street. They would get downtown, hop on the #7 South Main and realistically, I think it is less than a 15-minute drive from downtown to that particular grocery store." -says RMTD Marketing & Public Relations Specialist Lisa Brown.
It's a three dollar round trip ticket for adults, but RMTD offers discounts for students, senior citizens and the disabled. That helps residents like James Williams. He says he rides the bus for free.
"I have a learning disability and also, I have a hard time speaking." -he explains.
Williams takes public transportation to a couple different grocery stores.
"I usually take the Charles Street bus to go to Logli's or the Big Loop South to go to Walmart or Big Loop North. The buses are really cool and I really enjoy the buses." -he says.
RMTD gets him and other riders where they need to go.
"I go to Walmart, I go to Valli, I go to a variety of stores. The services do a good job of getting you close to your destination and I can't complain." -says Rockford resident Kevin Williams.
Transportation leaders say relying on the bus does put some factors out of your control.
"If you were to access any one of the three Walmarts, once you got on the bus from downtown, you would need to allow at least one hour there and then back, depending on which Walmart you were going to." -Brown explains.
But, west Rockford residents might not have to make that long trip forever. There's talk of more options.
"We're going to have to force this a little bit though. I think we're going to have to create the incentives, we've been looking at maybe helping to acquire some property that can be more retail on West State. If we get a whole plan together and we work jointly as a community, I think we can make it happen." -says Chairman Christiansen.
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