April was National Minority Health Month and with diabetes and other health related issues increasing in communities around the state, researchers want to address health disparities. The Florida Department of Health focused its efforts on food deserts and pushed for healthy eating and education. Researchers are pointing to those same food deserts as a contributor to health issues disproportionally affecting minorities, and advocates say education and access to healthier foods would help these communities get back to basics.
Just north of Florida State University, a small area in Tallahassee called Frenchtown has minimal food access.
Whensley Dareus is a volunteer for iGrow community. iGrow is an initiative to sell food to communities in food deserts. It has two locations. Both are looking for volunteers to help produce fruits and vegetables. iGrow farmer Sundiata Ameh El says residents in food stricken areas should educate themselves on healthier foods to eat.
"You have record numbers of young people with diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. All of these things are usually food related so if we knew how to avoid those things by simply changing our eating habits, then we’d be on our way to basically saving our own lives," Ameh El says.
The other iGrow is on the South Side of Tallahassee, where grocery stores are hard to find in close range, yet corner stores and fast food restaurants are plentiful.
Every Tuesday a food truck makes its way to the south side in an empty lot on Orange Avenue, distributing dry foods from Second Harvest. Low-income residents stop by to sign up for boxes, listing how many live in their household and contact information. Winn-Dixie on South Adams Street closed down for good and left many residents searching for fresh produce.
Seaborn says, "that left us in a lurch, basically on this side of town."
FAMU Research Coordinator Cynthia Seaborn says Piggly Wiggly on the south side was the only grocer willing to move into one of the vacant lots.
"I’m not sure if they have a criteria, for them to meet this and that. Because basically they have fresh fruits and vegetables, they have the things we say that we want but what’s the quality," Seaborn says.
Consumers on the south side argue that the cost and quality of the produce isn’t as good as any other competing grocers and still puts their health at risk.
Seaborn says, "so short of getting an organization owned by us ran by us and for us.
And economics, the laws of supply and demand, are also in play.
"It’s perceived that low income won’t purchase food. But I purchase what you provide me, so I think that’s a fallacy, that we won’t purchase food on this side of town," Seaborn says.
Ameh El says, "they’re going to use these onions, and they’re going to cook food, use this spinach and this kale and make healthy meals for themselves."
But those taking advantage of the produce from iGrow, aren’t the ones iGrow’s Sundiata Ameh El set out to help.
Ameh El says, "the majority of the people who buy from this online venue are usually Caucasian, upper high middle class and on the north side of town. We’re dealing with people who are educated in terms of why these foods are important. But the people who don’t know are the ones who need the most help."