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The food desert problem

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With so much water around, it's hard to believe that many areas in Eastern Carolina are food deserts. But the problem is widespread.

"There are some people who know that they're in an area, and others don't even know that they're living in a food desert," said Diana Vetter Craft, the healthy food systems coordinator for region 10.

Food desert means the closest source of healthy food in an urban area is more than one mile away, and in a rural area more than 10 miles away.

"A lot of times it's not just one single solution to the problem," said Pamela Brown with the Onslow County Health Department.

Sometimes the problem is when there is too much junk food in an area, known as a food swamp.

Communities in the East are trying to reduce the problem. One way is to get convenience stores to carry healthier food options, something some stores already do.

"They actually have the produce closer to the register so individuals who do that impulse of, oh let me just buy this candy bar. They can actually pull the produce instead," said Vetter Craft.

In some areas, farmers are opening more produce markets in areas that desperately need healthy food.

Josh Roberson opened Carolina Country Fresh in Bethel, just one of the food deserts in the East.

"If you wanted anything in Bethel, you could go to the dollar general, you could go get somebody to take you to Robersonville or Greenville, but there was nothing here," said Roberson.

Another area where farmers are trying to help the food desert problem is farmers markets.

The Onslow County Farmers Market is one of the few in the East that accepts food stamps.

"The farmers market is an excellent opportunity for people to get access to the fruits and vegetables that they need in order to be healthy," said Todd Lyman, the Public Information Officer for Onslow County.

The farmers market there has been accepting food stamps for 10 years. The success of the market led it to recently open a second location at Camp Lejeune, making the base one of the first DOD installations in the country with a farmers market.

Nat Fahy with Camp Lejeune said one of the primary reasons they brought a farmers market on board was to help the food desert problem that existed on base.

"It's always a concern aboard an installation or anywhere when you have a population that is considered to be part of a food desert," Fahy said.

Several farmers markets in the East are now looking at possibly accepting food stamps to open their markets up to more people. One of those markets is in New Bern.

"Our purpose for doing it, we want everybody to have access to local foods. Not just people who live right around the farmers market, or right next door to it," said Joe Hunt, New Bern Farmers Market board member.

Lyman says he hopes more Eastern Carolina farmers markets will start accepting food stamps to help the food desert problem in the area.

"If this is one more way that we can get people access to fresh food, then it's a win-win for everyone," Lyman said. "The folks that are producing it and the people who need it."

To check out a map of food deserts in the East, visit this website.

If you live in Onslow County and would like to serve on the Food Police Council, contact Larry Kent at 910-455-5873.

For other helpful links, visit any of the following:
·         http://www.ncallianceforhealth.org
·         www.localstrides.com 
·         http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert/

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