The City of Baltimore recently received international recognition from the Caripolo Foundation and the City of Milan, Italy for its efforts to bring healthy foods to the one-in-four persons living in the city’s many food deserts.  But while the Charm City was being showered with global accolades, local residents in one of the city’s worst food deserts said there’s just not enough progress in bringing supermarkets and healthy food choices to their community.

“There are no healthy grocery stores around here. None at all,” Stephen Smith, a Poppleton resident, told the AFRO.  The closest facility is Lexington Market, which is about a mile down the road from Smith.  “Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be my first choice for healthy foods,” Smith said.

Terry Patton, principal at Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School, is working with Harvest for the Hungry to ensure students and families at her school have fresh food. (Courtesy photo)

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines an urban food desert as a location with at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.  Research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, reveals that more than 63% of residents in the 9th City Council District live in food deserts, the highest percentage of residents living in a food desert in Baltimore.

Terry Patton, principal at Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School in District 9, initiated support for her students and families through a partnership with Harvest for the Hungry. The school serves as a food/vegetable pick-up point allowing families to obtain boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables at a reduced cost.

“They called us and asked if we would be interested. Of course, there are no grocery stores around here. Many of our families look to us to help them bridge the gap,” said Patton.

District 9 has the highest concentration of corner stores but the lowest number of supermarkets citywide to support its more than 29,000 residents, according to a recent report issued by The Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The City’s Department of Public Health has encouraged corner stores to stock healthy foods through its Healthy Stores Initiative, however none of the stores involved in the initiative are close to Smith or the Franklin Square School.

More than one-third of Baltimore’s African-American population lives in a food desert and 30% of all school-aged children live without nearby access to healthy food as well.  The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, an intergovernmental collaboration consisting of the Department of Planning (DOP), Office of Sustainability (BOS), Health Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) and Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) was founded in 2010 and charged with the responsibility of expanding access to healthy and affordable food choices in Baltimore’s food deserts.

The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative promotes the city’s farmer’s markets as well as community gardens and urban agriculture. The agencies within the group support a central kitchen model for Baltimore Public Schools and a generous tax credit program coordinated by The Baltimore Development Corporation.

Still, only one of the city’s 45 supermarkets calls District 9 “home.”

Smith believes it shouldn’t be that difficult to attract a quality supermarket and restaurants to his area – just across from The University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus. “A lot of folks don’t like to speak out. And that’s why we don’t have those type of things that we need,” Smith said. “Things are not going to change unless we stand up and make them change.,”