Chicago food deserts as healthy choices move in

Chicago food deserts as healthy choices move in

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Chicago's food deserts are shrinking, thanks to a healthy mix of new and upgraded retail stores, produce carts, urban farms, farmer's markets and donated CTA buses filled with fruits and vegetables.

City Hall defines food deserts as census tracts located more than one mile from a licensed retail food establishment with at least 10,000 square feet of space. Gas stations and fast-food restaurants don't qualify.

By that measure, the population of Chicago food deserts has declined by 21 percent in the 27 months since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office — from 100,159 to 79,434.

"We've made good progress, ... [but] we want to ultimately eliminate food deserts. It's more than just about public health. It's about neighborhood vitality, economic development and job creation," said Michael Negron, the mayor's chief of policy.

"We've successfully shown these CEOs that there's a viable case for rehabbing stores in neighborhoods that need them. There are customers there if you are willing to open a store."

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to eradicate food deserts and end a disparity that has left entire inner-city communities with precious few healthy shopping choices.

Within 30 days of taking office, he convened a summit of six grocery store executives to confront the issue, showcase maps and a detailed analysis of potential sites and secure commitments for 36 new and upgraded stores.

A former White House chief of staff, Emanuel piggybacked onto Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign against childhood obesity during a joint appearance with the first lady.

He also pushed through legislation expanding the maximum size of community gardens, easing fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms and allowing urban farms to sell their wares at farmer's markets.

A mobile food cart ordinance authorized 50 produce carts over two years, half of them in neighborhoods where residents cannot easily purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

He's now claiming to have delivered on his promise, thanks to:

  • 14 new or upgraded stores in food deserts. Three of them are Wal-Marts. Nine are remodeled Walgreen stores that now offer fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • 14 fresh produce carts, half of them in food deserts.
  • 253,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables grown this year on 15 acres of urban farms.
  • 32 weekly stops made by two Fresh Moves Mobile Produce Markets rolling in donated and rehabbed CTA buses through nine shopping-deprived neighborhoods: Englewood, South Shore, Riverdale, Roseland, South Chicago, South Deering, Washington Park, Austin and West Garfield Park. A third Fresh Moves bus is expected to get rolling in the coming months.

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