Guest Blog Post by Juliana Dearr - New College of Florida Thesis Student

  Juliana_Map

The map displayed above is a basic description of food access points in Newtown, Sarasota.  The geographic parameters of the surveyed area are Myrtle street northbound, 10th street southbound, Washington boulevard eastbound, and US 41 westbound.  Within these boundaries, I plotted all food locations and sorted them into six distinct categories: large grocery stores, small grocery stores, specialty grocery stores, restaurants, gardens, and hunger relief.  To clarify, the specialty stores are two Asian markets and one Hispanic market, and hunger relief locations distribute free or substantially discounted food.  Once I collected this data, Laurel Corrao at the SCOPE office helped me plot the locations over census data as a map.  The shaded areas of the map represent the percentages of households that do not own a vehicle for transportation.  As the map shows, approximately one in five or six households in the brown shaded area surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Way do not have a private vehicle.  In the remaining area of Newtown one in twenty to one in one hundred households do not have a vehicle, a significantly smaller amount.

The goal of plotting this information was to show what food is available in Newtown and the accessibility of food locations.  I gathered this information for my senior thesis at New College of Florida, concentrating on cultural anthropology.  The goal of my thesis is to better understand food accessibility and community improvement efforts in the North Sarasota area.   As the map indicates, many households in this area do not have a vehicle.  Therefore, it is more likely that members of these households will purchase food that is in close proximity to their houses.  Understanding what types of food are available in the radius around them will shed light on the potential barriers to health improvements in this low-income neighborhood.

A healthy diet is crucial for a healthy body.  The types of foods we eat influence rates of chronic illness, such as mental illness, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.  After creating this map, I surveyed the varieties of food sold in each of the grocery stores in search of healthy food.  The two large groceries, Publix and Walmart Neighborhood Market, have a wide variety of fresh and processed foods.  The specialty markets have some fresh produce, fish, and meat as well as specialty processed foods.  The small groceries, which are the most accessible in the low-transportation area, are almost exclusively processed foods.  Some small groceries, such as Orange Grocery and Janie’s Garden Market, feature a limited variety of fresh, frozen, and canned produce as well as fresh meats and a wider variety of grain choices.  However, most of the small groceries, such as Moore’s Grocery, Express Grocery, and Dread Market, focus on snacks, alcohol, and soft drinks while stocking very few other items.  The other items that could be considered in the realm of fresh or healthy food were incredibly limited and repeated throughout the stores, such as canned Vienna sausage, whole milk, sugary cereals, white bread, and American cheese product slices.  I also noticed these grocery items have higher prices at the small stores than they do at the major supermarket chains.  When I asked the store clerks how the decision is made as to what items are stocked, they insisted that the processed foods they sell are what people in the area want to buy.  Some even said attempts to buy fresh food left groceries rotting on store shelves.

While nearby stores may lack wholesome products, All Faiths Food Bank supplies several local partners in Newtown with food for distribution.  As a non-profit, the food bank does not have to provide based on customer demand.  They can choose to supply healthier foods and do their best to stimulate local interest in healthy eating.  Churches and other community organizations, such as Dollar Dynasty, receive shipments from All Faiths and distribute them in the Newtown community.  This past year, All Faiths began a mobile market, “Sprout”, the delivers fresh produce to areas in need.  Customers of the market get fresh produce and educational materials on a fit diet.

Overall, the food selection available in this area is concerning.  Junk foods that are linked to chronic health problems are far more readily available than fresh foods.  The lack of transportation in the central area of Newtown implies that certain households are limited to what is available in their immediate vicinity.  Going forward, it is important to understand food availability issues if we hope to improve community health.  I think that increasing the amount of fresh, healthy food available in Newtown has the potential to structurally improve health conditions in this low-income area.  While education programs and donation services are helpful approaches to health problems, I believe that permanent changes to businesses have more potential to improve what people eat, in turn increasing their health over their lifetime.  Increasing affordable public transportation is another way we can increase health in the long-term, as increased transportation will increase food accessibility.  Based on this data, my future recommendation is to explore options whereby the local government and foundations could incentivize small grocery store owners to increase their stock of fresh foods.    As a city and as a community, it is our responsibility to plant the seeds of change in the present if we hope to see blossoms in our future.

Thank you again to the team at SCOPE, especially Ms. Corrao, for working with me so closely on this project.