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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Apr. 9, 201904:00 AM EST

Program would target Northwest Jacksonville food desert

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Council to review “Full-Service Grocery Store Program” to bring healthy-food stores, education.
by: Scott Sailer Staff Writer

The city of Jacksonville proposes to develop programs to make quality fresh food available and affordable in Northwest Jacksonville, considered a food desert because it lacks access to healthy options.

City Council plans to review Ordinance 2019-245, which seeks to adopt the “Full-Service Grocery Store Program,” an effort to determine solutions to bring healthy-food stores and educational programs to Northwest Jacksonville.

It follows Ordinance 2018-195, which appropriated $3 million from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund to develop programs to improve affordability, education and promote access to healthy food. 

That ordinance was enacted in March 2018.

A portion of the money was used to hire a consultant to evaluate Northwest Jacksonville food deserts and recommend incentive programs for long term solutions.

Northwest Jacksonville has the largest concentration of food deserts in Jacksonville.

The ordinance says that almost 180,000 people in Jacksonville are “food insecure, and that 37% of Jacksonville’s food desert census tracts (15 of the 40) are in Northwest Jacksonville.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as “a geographic area lacking access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas, largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” 

The lack of healthy food options means residents might rely on less healthy food.

The city Office of Economic Development hired T. Brown Consulting Group LLC of Fernandina Beach in August to produce the Northwest Jacksonville Food Desert & Grocery Store Study. The contract is not to exceed $105,000.

The study defined Northwest Jacksonville as communities north of Interstate 10 and west of North Main Street and including Eastside.

That study was designed to help the city create supermarket incentive programs. 

T. Brown analyzed the food desert areas, held community meetings, spoke with elected officials and reviewed studies of cities similar to Jacksonville.

The group recommended strategies for attracting and retaining grocery stores; delivery and food access; and expanding the inventory of healthy food in existing stores.

The new store attraction and retention program suggests offering financial incentives to attract full-service grocery stores by reducing development or operating costs.

The delivery and food access program suggests incentives for stores that offer online purchases with food delivery as well as ride-share initiatives for customers to shop in person.

The expanded inventory program suggests providing incentives to increase the number of stores offering healthy food inventories, such as convenience, dollar and drug stores.

The ordinance resulted from the study and pilot programs developed by OED as a part of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund programs.

OED would provide oversight of the programs.

The office also is considering four pilot programs:

• The Delivery Initiatives Program, which would reduce the cost of fresh-food deliveries.

• The Transportation Program, which would provide transportation to full-service grocery stores.

• The Expanded Inventory Offering Program, which would offer incentives to stores in food deserts to sell healthy food options.

• The Mobile Market Program, which would assist mobile markets to provide healthy foods to the area.

OED plans later to recommend additional pilot programs suggested in the report.

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