Urban areas across America are often described as food deserts because they lack ready access to affordable, healthy food.
Irvington, New Jersey and parts of Newark could make the case that healthy food has often been more of a mirage — they say it’s out there, but it’s difficult to obtain, particularly for those lacking personal transportation.
But healthy food options are now, or soon will be, right around the corner for many Irvington and Newark residents.
Six neighborhood stores in Irvington are now offering — and promoting — fresh fruit to their customers, particularly children who often stop in on their way to and from nearby schools. The stores are part of an initiative by the city’s health department to create incentives for store owners to stock and sell healthy food options.
In Newark, four corner stores (one in each ward) have signed on to be part of the “healthy food network,” a joint effort between New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Newark (NJPHK-N) and The Food Trust. “The goal is to connect corner store owners and community leaders with the resources they need to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods in corner stores throughout New Jersey,” said Courtney Price, NJPHK-N project manager. “We want to help store owners stock, promote and sell healthy foods.”
To qualify as part of the healthy store network, stores display sanctioned marketing materials — including recipe cards — to indicate healthy food options; introduce four new healthy food products from two different food groups, and agree to periodic progress-assessment visits. In turn, the stores are eligible for training and technical assistance and advertising, marketing materials and community promotion to attract new customers.
Bryan Moran, the food access coordinator, began canvassing Newark stores last year to recruit owners. Now with the four stores ready to launch, he and Price will be visiting schools and community organizations in each ward to get the word out about the healthy food network and encourage residents to visit the stores and enjoy the healthy products.
“Every day, children stop in corner stores for snacks like chips, candy and soda that average 360 calories each,” Price said. “If the healthy corner stores can encourage even half of those kids to pick up a piece of fruit or yogurt, we can improve the health of children and families in Newark.”
With 10 corner stores in Newark and Irvington taking steps to sell healthier foods, oases are clearly springing up in the northern NJ food desert.
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