Conversations: Asheville food deserts

ON A ROLL: Ujamaa Freedom Market cofounder Olufemi Lewis peruses some of the items the bus transports to food-desert communities. Photo by Cindy Kunst

The Dec. 31 cover story by Jonathan Ammons, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” examined communities in Asheville that lack supermarkets and access to other sources of affordable, nutritious food. The story explored how these neighborhoods, known as food deserts, came to be and how grassroots organizations, like the Ujamaa Freedom Market (made possible due to the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation’s efforts to coordinate the energies of a few interested food-desert residents), are working to alleviate the problem.

The article sparked local dialogue about the issue, including a lengthy and proactive thread on the Asheville Politics Facebook page.

Here are excerpts from that Facebook conversation from Dec. 31-Jan. 1:

“Seems like an easy enough problem to address in a local level. Instead of all those concerned staying in an endless cycle of policy meetings and handwringing about how somebody needs to do something they should refocus that energy. Raise a little money, lease a storefront in the most affected area, stock it with the foods you’ve determined the residents need, problem solved for that area. Repeat as needed in the next area.” — Tim Glance

“I wonder why no one has taken the initiative to open a small grocery store near Hillcrest. And I don’t mean a quick-stop, I mean food …” — Annie Avery

“Because that’s a solution that would take a lot more effort than sitting around endless meetings complaining that everyone from Congress on down sucks and needs to send more money, Annie. And more risk. I find the activist class in Asheville to only about 1 percent actual doers, and 99 percent complainers who want to be loud about what everyone else should do and how they should do it. This is a pretty classic example. For all the time and effort wasted on the creation and whatever activities, for a ‘food policy council’ to complain how there are no stores to serve these populations, they could have probably had two stores open by now. Instead they just were spinning their wheels complaining that everyone else needs to ‘do something’ so in the end they accomplished pretty much nothing.”Tim Glance

“You would think more people could see the patterns, Tim.” – Dallas Taylor

“Just looking at some basic ideas to see how feasible this is, I found a good used modular classroom trailer for $5,500. Essentially a double-wide trailer open on the inside — more than big enough for a start. Only hurdle in using it would be that by the time the city inspectors had their way you probably would have triple that in getting it installed and up, even using volunteer labor (great chance to get Habitat for Humantity, the local IBEW and others involved to help). A lot could be leased, maybe even from the city. You can buy used fixtures cheap when other retail places close — but you could probably get Ingles to donate older fixtures and coolers and such for the tax breaks and PR. Worst case $10,000 gets your fixtures and enough used coolers and freezers to start. So lease on land, trailer plus install, and fixtures you are at $30,000 or so. Add another $15,000 for initial inventory, $5000 for unanticipated expenses, and for $50,000 it’s up and going. How many would it take to address Asheville’s “food deserts”? $200,000 and I bet we have that licked. Hire local residents and also treat them as a vocational/job training program. Of course that relies upon the assumption that residents in these areas actually want healthy food options and will patronize them enough to sustain them once they are running.” – Tim Glance

Where would that market go, Annie? Hillcrest is deliberately isolated: one car bridge, one walking bridge. Better solution is to break up the prison, end projects and bring people into the neighborhoods where food options exist organically. – Rich Lee

“Let’s see — there is enough space to actually locate it on the grounds at Hillcrest … Right across the intersection where Atkinson comes over the bridge and meets Hill Street is a wooded lot that is big enough.” — Tim Glance

“OK, this is an excellent thread; let’s keep talking. Even though I live out by Tunnel Road with no car, I would be happy to sit and brainstorm ideas and solutions. I know there’s a way to even slightly make this better.” – Annie Avery

“So, I am remembering being a single mom living in subsidized housing. No grocery stores nearby. Wouldn’t it be the easiest thing to use school buses to transport folks from neighborhoods to grocery stores a few times a week? And then have something like a food-mobile (like the library book-mobile) driving around neighborhoods with fresh meat and dairy and such? Of course, we are all assuming folks without cars have enough energy left at the end of the day to prepare food. Actually, I am thinking out loud here. Driving the food-mobile around would be a great part-time job for seniors.” — Jane Wallace

“We need more involvement in the Food Policy Council. We have a lot of interest, but not nearly enough in the way of regular attendance by folks that can take on a task or two. And we’re lacking in diversity, not enough representation by farmers and those most effected by food insecurity…people who are hard-pressed to find the time I imagine.” — Jillian Wolf

“That support and buy-in has to come from the city. I learned recently, regarding a project we’ve discussed, that the city feels it’s under no obligation to devote public space to food-growing plants, despite that it’s in the Food Action Plan they adopted. There’s a long way to go to make food a city priority with teeth.”Rich Lee

“I’ve always said that huge field behind the fire station and the Dr. Grant center would make a great urban farm.” – Jonathan Robert

“That may happen (though the current greenway plans say otherwise.) Meanwhile, some in this group are trying to create food producing areas on the former Duke Power land across the river.” – Rich Lee

To see the full conversation, search the “Asheville Politics” page on Facebook.


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4 thoughts on “Conversations: Asheville food deserts

  1. OneWhoKnows

    Wow, Rich Lee! great advice to phase out all the housing projects except enough for the disabled! public housing BLIGHTS every
    decent intown neighborhood…Montford gets a double whammy!

    I didn’t think I would support you to run for office but maybe you have a great idea there! This is THE MOST government dependent town I have ever witnessed…pathetic.

  2. Jonathan Wainpants

    I don’t understand. Didn’t we just make it easier for people to grow food in town? I mean, if you have a quarter acre of land and room for five cars to park off-street, then you can have your own little fruits and veggies stand and that was supposed to help ease the affordable-organic-local-food-shortage problem thinggie? Gordon Smith is keppin’ food affordable and housin’ affordable…It’s so weird, it’s like there is this problem, and people keep saying that they are solving the problem, but the problem is still not solved. So weird. Well, at least when Hillcrest gets torn down and we start planting squash on the banks of the French Broad River, things will work out. The squash will be closely located to the homeless camps.

    • Jim

      That takes like actual work dontcha know??? Elitist windbags like Smith are not the solution. And only about as useful as a hemorrhoid. Here’s an actual idea, how about the idiots on council with their 1 percenter friends put their money where there mouths are at and open stores close to these food deserts. Ahh, but the crime that is rampant in these areas make that a losing proposition. Or at least until the cronies have had enough and gentrify them whilst pushing out those that they supposedly seek to help yet secretly despise.

  3. Sigh

    First step is to go in and clean up the neighborhoods with blight. Nobody is going to invest in a grocery store when you’ve got gang graffiti all over the place.
    But that takes internal effort on the part of the residents that live there. You can’t have improvement if the residents don’t want it.

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