Its hard to believe that with the lush Florida vegetation and beautiful beaches, many of our Jacksonville neighbors and friends are living in a desert.
A food desert, that is. While exact definitions vary, a food desert is generally recognized as an area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities. More narrowly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) labels a food desert as any census district where at least 20 percent of the inhabitants are below the poverty line, and 33 percent live more than one mile from the nearest supermarket (in rural areas, more than 10 miles).
Nearly 73,000 residents in two-dozen neighborhoods in Jacksonville are living in food deserts.
Note the general definitions wording: limited access affordable nutritious. Food is available in these deserts, but its usually from convenience stores, where healthy choices are limited, if non-existent, and prices are higher. A common trait of food deserts is convenience stores outnumbering grocery stores. And while there are many reasons people develop chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, food deserts contribute to these conditions by limiting the residents of these areas to processed foods and fast food. In neighborhoods classified as food deserts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fresh meats, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up a nutritious, healthy diet are lacking.
Now, though, our neighbors and friends are fighting back against the deserts.
In 2011, the Healthy Jacksonville Duval County Food Policy Council was formed as a community-based approach with the mission of examining how the food system is operating, and developing recommendations on how to improve it. The Food Policy Council is an offshoot of the Healthy Jacksonville Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition (HJCOPC), a group of more than 100 parents, health professionals and community organizations that have been working together since 2003 to overcome obstacles to healthy eating.
On Saturday, April 21, the Healthy Jacksonville Duval County Food Policy Council will convene its inaugural Duval County Food Summit. The Summit, designed to express the Councils mission through a community conversation, will explore local food system operations and invite and develop recommendations. The Summit will cover food policies, legislation, childhood nutrition and eating healthy on a budget. Attendees will include key players within Duval County's food system, as well as child health and nutrition experts.
It is important that everyone in Jacksonville recognize that access to fresh and affordable food is a vital component to building a healthy and thriving community. Participation in events such as the Duval County Food Summit is the first step in a community-based effort to ensure a quality food system and better health for all people throughout Duval County.
The Healthy Jacksonville Duval County Food Policy Council inaugural Duval County Food Summit will be held on Saturday, April 21 at the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership, 4019 Boulevard Center Drive, Jacksonville, Florida 32207, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For information, please call (904) 253-2520.
Editorial by Richard Villadoniga
Richard Villadóniga is a middle school teacher in St. Johns County, Florida. He is a past Teacher of the Year award winner and has taught in public schools for over twelve years. He was awarded the Geoffrey Roberts Award for 2007 to fund the Endangered Foods Tour project.
In the past, he has also received two Fulbright fellowships to study in Japan and South Africa. He received a BA in Geography from The George Washington University and a Masters Degree in City Planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
He is the founder of Slow Food First Coast and serves on the Executive Committee of the Jacksonville Food Policy Council. He is currently working toward establishing school and community gardens in North Florida, increasing the availability of fresh and healthy foods in local communities, and making cities in the region more friendly toward local urban agriculture initiatives. He is the recipient of a grant (Building a Better North Florida Through School and Community Gardens) funded through the Embrace a Healthy Florida Initiative, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida Foundation.
His interests include traveling, cooking, and spending time in the great outdoors. He is a contributing food and travel writer for the St. Augustine Record. His articles have also been featured in Saveur, Water's Edge Magazine, Palm Coast Lifestyles, Farmers' Markets Today, the Bon Appetit Editors Blog, and Fiery-Foods.com.