Is Long Reach a food desert? Does anyone give a damn?

food-desert-2Soooo I spent about 90 minutes at Giant yesterday morning gathering my food for the impending snow like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. I lugged 7 heavy bags of groceries into my car and drove home. As I loaded my car I started thinking about the Long Reach residents who have to do the same thing as I do. Only their grocery store is not within walking distance of their home. And some of them don’t have a car so they have to call a cab, get on the bus, or get a ride with a friend to the nearest store. Then I started thinking about what a pain in the ass that must be. No fresh food providers nearby to run to when you want to get real food. Plenty of places to get processed, fatty, high sugar and sodium foods for cheap. These are the conditions of a food desert. Lemme explain…

I researched the definition of a food desert and got a few different versions. For this post, I will present three.

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is first. USDA defines a food desert as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” Long Reach loosely fits this definition. There are plenty of grocery stores and farmer’s markets in and around Columbia but none within a mile of the Long Reach village center.
  • Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future defines a food desert as “An area where the distance to a supermarket is more than one quarter of a mile; the median household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; over 40 percent of households have no vehicle available; and the average Healthy Food Availability Index score for supermarkets, convenience and corner stores is low (measured using the Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey).” I think Long Reach may meet that but I confess I don’t have the numbers to back up my suspicions.
  • The third is a random definition which speaks to the number of people that live in a food desert area. It states that ” a food desert is a low-income census tract where at least 500 people or a third of the population has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. In an urban area, this means living at least a mile from such a store; in a rural area, at least 10 miles.” Columbia is neither urban nor rural so this is why I struggle to get a good definition.

The reason why I’m so fired up about Long Reach having access to fresh foods is because you cannot possibly have a healthy community without it. As a health advocate, I see this as a major issue.  If a group of people have a diet that doesn’t meet the national dietary guidelines, that’s a public health threat. These groups are at risk for developing obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, certain cancers, etc. You don’t want that. We will all pay the price on some level for these people having health problems. Sick, poor people drain your resources, become workers with high absentee rates, and incur high debt due to health bills that they cannot afford (after health benefits have been applied, of course). Think it over. I make sense here.

Long Reach reform cannot happen without a plan for food people!!! It’s a must. And there’s funding to attract business owners to the area if you play your cards right. There’s this legislation in the Maryland Assembly right now called HB 451. The bill offers $1 million annually to businesses who are willing to sell Maryland-grown produce in areas that don’t have a grocery store. The bill, sponsored by Governor Martin O’Malley, passed 108-25. Also, the Federal Government has the Healthy Food Financing Initiative that offers grant money to organizations that want to fill the void in communities through nutrition. AND there’s a New Market Tax Credit for investors who want to rehab or start a business in a low income area. There are ways to lure vendors over to LR.

Of course having pretty vegetable on a shelf is not the cure all. There are studies that show that just because more food options are offered that doesn’t mean that consumption will automatically increase. That’s understandable. You can’t just drop a rutabaga in someone’s kitchen and expect a meal to be made from it. You have to consider things like presentation, placement of the produce in the store, offering “deals”, and teaching folks how to prepare the food. Dr. Deborah Cohen highlights in her book A Big Fat Crisis (recommended by HoCo Well and Wise by the way) that cooking demonstrations are one of the most attractive highlights of “the Supermarket of the Future”. Who doesn’t love a demo where you can taste test for free? Cohen states “if supermarkets provided cooking demonstrations, samples, and recipes, many more families, would likely expand the variety of fruits and vegetables and whole grains they would eat, which could lead to substantial improvements in the American diet across all social classes.” She’s got some serious research to back up that statement in her book so I’ll go with that.

Personally, I would love to see a retro thing happen in Long Reach as far as food goes. Let’s bring back the days before we had a supermarket. I’m talking Mayberry times. It would be mega cool to see a co-op of sorts with four main stores; a bakery, a meat market, a produce store, and a general store for other grocery needs. Buy a membership to the co-op, enjoy the savings, invest in your community, support small businesses that Howard County is known for. Damn the big boxes! I would even add on a flower shop, bookstore and consignment stores later. Have cooking demos in the courtyard during the spring and summer months. Maybe slide in a satellite office for Howard County General Hospital’s pediatric and adolescent care (that has nothing to do with food and nutrition but since I’m fantasizing here I might as well get it all out).

For those of you who don’t live here, please know that work is being done now to start the process of revitalization of this village center.  The powers that be are taking in all kinds of ideas and listening to the community feedback. I just want to be sure more people get it.  After all, this is suppose to be “Healthy Howard”.  Let’s work to make sure that Long Reach fits right in with that theme. So that’s my rambling for now. Feel free to comment, share, or ‘Like’ this post as you see fit. Peace!!

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10 thoughts on “Is Long Reach a food desert? Does anyone give a damn?

  1. Actually, one of the reasons grocery stores haven’t been successful in Long Reach is the great deal of access to food.

    The village of Long Reach has the center park drive area, which has a Giant. The village is a stones throw from Target right on Dobbin, which offers groceries.

    A little farther are Wegmans and Food Lion. While those might be a bit over a mile or so, they are still very close for a competitor to locate in an enclosed village center.

    Finally Long Reach actually has a garden in the BGE right of way, adjacent to the village center, where people have garden plots and grow their own food.

  2. Long Reach is very much not a food desert – in fact, as Anonymous says, the biggest problem is the plethora of food options in the area, and the relative lack of people who need to walk to their food store. There is not enough dense housing requiring or making it easy for people to walk to and from their food source (my biggest concern is for the elderly and disabled residents of Shalom Square and Longwood House, and to a lesser extent the relatively folks in condos and apartments who do not drive). Long Reach is a large village – and Phelps Luck borders the GIant at Center Park, Kendall Ridge is closer to Costco and Trader Joe’s, Locust Park and Kendall Ridge are closer to Target, and all 4 neighborhoods are incredibly close to Wegman’s.

    I’d love to go back to the 70s and 80s on some level – Village Centers then did have a cheese shop, butchers, florists, book stores, etc. – but it has not been economically viable to date.

  3. Please come visit Long Reach. It simply is not an impoverished area. Yes, there are some people who are lower income, but we celebrate our economic diversity. There are plenty of members of the 1% in Long Reach, as well as people who are struggling, but want to be part of this community. We are a community of choice, a community of incredible diversity, acceptance, and excitement. What makes Long Reach special is the fact that we are proud of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. We live here because we choose to – I can afford to live pretty much wherever I want, but I will not live somewhere else – this community is too awesome to go elsewhere. I hear the same things from neighbors who have paid off their houses and have extremely high incomes – they can easily afford a McMansion somewhere, but why leave this very well-located, convenient, and happy community?

    There are many grocery options close to the residents of Long Reach, and certainly plenty within one mile of clusters of residents – but I suspect that for most of Columbia, and certainly the majority of HoCo residences, there is not a grocery store within a mile. That’s a larger question of density and the razor thin profit margins on the groceries.

    – Giant is 1.6 miles from the Village Center, and less than a mile from all parts of Phelps Luck. Wegman’s is 1.9 miles from the VIllage Center, and less than a mile from parts of KR.

    – Target is 1.0 miles from the Village Center, and easy walking distance from the clusters of apartments in Locust Park.

    – Costco / Trader Joe’s is 2.9 miles from the Village Center, and less than a mile from parts of Kendall Ridge, though that is not a walk I would feel safe doing – and given the $500K plus value of a lot of the adjoining fairly new construction homes, I doubt these are the folks you are referring to in the original post.

    Median HHI in Long Reach is around $100K. 2014 Federal poverty guidelines for a family of 4 is $23,850.

    I doubt 40% of households have no vehicles available. There are 6,000 households in Long Reach. Our only low income complex is 160 units. Shalom Square is disability centered, and 50 units – I would suspect that a significant number do not drive. Longwood House is age restricted and 100 assisted units. I don’t know how many Housing Choice vouchers exist, but there are not enough available in the county to meet any definition given in the original post.

    • LOL @ “please come visit”. I come through there a lot. I I shop at that Giant on Center Park Drive. I go to Trader Joe’s and Target as well. I also shop in the village center every other week because the beauty supply store has the products that I use in my hair (the only spot in Ho Co I can find my products. Also the owner and I are on good terms. Great guy!). I used to get my son’s hair cut there at the barber shop until his barber switched shops a few months ago. I have four friends that live there as well that I visit. So I am not quite an outsider looking in. Unfortunately there is no real reason for me to spend more time there. I am fully aware of the diversity of Long Reach. That’s wonderful that you choose to live there when you could live in other places and I am thrilled to see your enthusiasm about the community. I sincerely hope you remain there for a very long time.

      I thank you VERY MUCH for the info though. It’s interesting. And I thank you for your comments. It’s great to have some interaction. I just posed the question as a thought not necessarily a criticism or a put down.

  4. Long Reach isn’t our village center, and it’s a shame that a horrible property owner has managed to do so much harm to the community. Long Reach is Frog Night on Jackson Pond. Long Reach is the impromptu potlucks that just sort of pop up when meeting your neighbors on the street and in the cul-de-sac. Long Reach is the network of mostly SAH-but-sometimes-working lawyer mommies that trade professional conversation with swing pushing (and I’ve heard that the SAH but sometimes working [INSERT PROFESSION HERE] parents seem to all do the same thing. Long Reach is giant crews of neighbors in the stream for Columbia Cleans. Long Reach is the kids (yes, some of whom dress horribly and wear pants far too large) that make sure that our elderly neighbors are dug out during the snow. Long Reach is the cluster of amazing gardners in Jeffers Hill that have been tending their yards and trading gardening challenges for four decades. Long Reach is the senior Christmas lights tour and party, where seniors who come in a Mercedes sit next to a senior from Longwood House, and seniors who have never been outside the US sit next to seniors who speak no English, and all revel together. Long Reach is neighbors popping in for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and a chat. Long Reach is parents at Phelps Luck Elementary and Jeffers Hill Elementary with immense pride as their children graduate — whether those parents speak little to no English and this is the first family member graduating from elementary school, or the parents have PhDs. Long Reach is the ridiculously successful dentist whose kids are done college/med school and still spends 10-20 hours a week coaching kids and fighting to get kids scholarships so that they too, can go to college. Long Reach is the colonel who is north of 80 who spends his time divided between writing, playing poker, volunteering for the community, and telling all us young people that we need to make sure we’re ready for change and the future. Long Reach is the plethora of “retired” people who seem to spend all their time working for the community.

    I suspect those things may happen elsewhere as well, but for me, the joy and camaraderie of this community is second to none. I am humbled by and proud of all my neighbors – the ones who struggle, the ones that are affluent, the ones that speak only English, the ones that speak no English, the ones that are young, old, and everything in between.

  5. I love your ideas! I think that would draw people… Lots of people from the area, not just Long Reach. That’s what will help these VCs survive…One or two big draws (not necessarily big box!) in each one. IMHO.

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