Midlands neighborhoods struggle for food options

Updated: Apr. 28, 2017 at 8:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Food for thought.

Most of us take for granted that we live close to a grocery store. And we always have quick access to a wide range of top quality food options. But many people in our metro area don't have that luxury.

They're called food deserts. Areas of nearly always low-income communities where it's hard, if not impossible, to have nearby access to stores with fresh, healthy food.

Food deserts are hardly a new phenomenon. They've been studied for decades.

The question that remains, however, is what to do about them?

Some neighborhoods won't have to worry about a shortage of food outlets anytime soon. Communities around Two Notch Road near the Village at Sandhill for instance, where just two days ago, shoppers began flocking to a brand new Fresh Market. Meanwhile out in Lexington--construction is well underway at two locations for the equally upscale Lowe's chain.

On West Beltline, however, things are just the opposite. Residents, like Mary Pretty, used to be able to shop and eat at the Piggly Wiggly. But last summer, it shut down.

"I've been coming here for like over 20 years when they had it here, the store," Pretty said. "I liked the way this store was set up. Because I could get a breakfast and grab food at the same time, you know whatever I needed at the same time as far as shopping-wise."

Pretty, in fact, would travel to the Edens Plaza Piggly Wiggly from her home on Monticello Road - another area short on grocery stores.

University of South Carolina Public Health Researcher Carrie Draper says the real issue is not convenience, it's a matter of life and death.

"You know we know that 29203 zip code has the highest rate of diabetes-related amputees than any zip code in the country. So, I think that just is, number one, extraordinarily unjust but definitely illustrates your point of, you know we know that food is directly related to health and health is directly related to how long you are able to live," Draper said.

One solution is a program called FoodShare Columbia that Draper supports. It is a partnership partly paid for with SNAP funds allowing members of the community to buy boxes of fresh produce every two weeks.

The city is also exploring a plan to convert more than 20 acres of land along West Beltline into a food co-op. One that could help, at least in part, to make up for the loss of the Pig.

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