Without any traffic, I can get to Camden, N.J., in about 10 minutes from my house. If you were visiting me, and you were unfamiliar with the region, you would never guess that I’m so close to one of the poorest cities in the country.
Camden has been officially designated by the USDA as a food desert, a neighborhood with inadequate access to fresh food. The city of more than 77,000 people has only one full-service supermarket, a Pathmark, located in the Fairview section on the southern edge of the city. It’s not easily accessed by many of the city’s residents who don't have a car.
An announcement has been made that a second full-service supermarket, ShopRite, is in development. It’s the first supermarket to open in the city in 30 years. The project is due to be completed in 2015.
This is good news, mostly. The proposed ShopRite will be located on the edge of the city — just a different edge than the Pathmark. A piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer mentions that the market will be “easily accessible to most Camden residents once the Baird Boulevard and East State Street bridges reopen for traffic.” That’s assuming residents have access to cars. It will not be within walking distance for most of Camden’s residents, and it will be on a major, busy road, making it a difficult walk even for those within walking distance.
Bringing full-service supermarkets to Camden is important for the health of the citizens. If the supermarkets are going to be on the outskirts, however, many of the city’s residents are still going to have a tough time having access to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other whole, healthy foods.
The residents are currently in a battle with the state over the proposed eviction of the Camden Children’s Garden, which oversees community and backyard food gardens and school food garden programs. If the Children’s Garden goes, it will jeopardize the $2.3 million worth of fruits and vegetables that are grown in backyard and community gardens throughout the city. Those gardens are the only access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables that many of the residents have.
Let’s hope the state doesn’t use this proposed ShopRite as part of its argument for the eviction. The supermarket is a good thing, but it’s not the entire answer to Camden’s food desert problem. The Inquirer notes that this supermarket is a first step towards shedding the label. But it’s just a first step. Ground hasn’t even been broken yet. There’s no guarantee that the grocery store will actually materialize.
The residents of Camden, like the residents of all food deserts in the United States, need easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. A garden on your block or your neighborhood is accessible. A grocery store on the edge of town when you have no car is not. Camden needs both grocery stores and a strong community and backyard garden program to shed its food desert label.
Related on MNN: USDA releases Food Desert Locator tool
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