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Health food advocates aim to alleviate Raleigh's 'food deserts'

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In southeast Raleigh -- one of the USDA's food deserts -- people often walk to the Food Lion to get their groceries. In southeast Raleigh -- one of the USDA's food deserts -- people often walk to the Food Lion to get their groceries.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

While legislators continue to discuss how to bring an oasis to the food deserts that plague the state, health food advocates are doing what they can to make residents in these areas of Wake County healthier.

The USDA defines food deserts as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without good access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Health food advocates said that food deserts are a big problem and that people in those areas have a better chance at finding fast food than they do a grocery story with fruits and vegetables.

Monday afternoon the House committee on food desert zones met to examine these gaps in part after a national chain closed two grocery stores in southeast Raleigh.

The panel met four times, hearing about the challenges of accessing healthful foods at reasonable prices in these zones, as well as possible solutions to encourage fresh fruit and vegetable sales at convenience stores and inclusion on school cafeteria trays.

The panel's report to other legislators, who return for their annual work session next month, says more than 1.5 million people in North Carolina live in at least 349 food deserts in 80 counties, citing federal data.

Anita Woodley and those with the organization hope the legislature will make recommendations to make it easier for Grocer's on Wheels  and others, like co-ops to make healthy food readily available to areas that have been labeled food deserts. Grocers on Wheels focuses on seniors and people with low income, delivering fresh fruits, vegetables and meats for low prices.

Workers with the non-profit hope to expand their service based on the legislature's decision.

"We're creating this oasis within the food desert," Woodley explained. "Our operation can't alleviate the entire food desert because it's huge; but what we can do is create those pockets where people are secure in their food and they are saying, 'Wow this is feasible.'"

Woodley said her crew will pay close attention to what the legislator recommends so they can grow accordingly.

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Shumuriel Ratliff

Shumuriel, a North Carolina native, is thrilled to be back in the Tar Heel state as a general assignment reporter for WNCN.
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