Downtown Florence considered a food desert

One major concern is walkability.
Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 9:13 PM CST
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FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - When you drive through downtown Florence you will be met with restaurants, coffee shops, and places to shop but one thing you won’t see is a grocery store.

City council members like Michelle Eubanks consider this area a food desert.

“There are plenty of places to eat if you are having lunch or if you need to run in and grab a quick sandwich or a bowl of soup on a cold day. Where we get into issues, however, and why I consider it to be a food desert is because there aren’t a lot of fresh food items, produce, vegetables, and fruits that you can go in and get and have a healthy option that you can get to easily, quickly, and then purchase relatively affordable,” said Eubanks.

Food deserts are regions where people have limited access to healthful and affordable food. This may be due to having a low income or having to travel farther to find healthy food options. It means at least 1/3 of the area’s population lives more than a half-mile from the closest supermarket.

There is one grocery store in a nearby community with a health score of 85 which has improved in the last four months from a 77 when they were written up for flies in the building, spoiled meats and a dirty ice machine.

The other closet option is the Neighborhood Walmart which is a little more than a mile away in a car and Hometown Market that’s about a mile away via car.

District One councilwoman Kaytrina Simmons lives in the area and frequents those stores.

“To neighborhood market, it’s about five minutes. To hometown, it’s less than that but it is certainly not in walkability distance for anyone,” said Simmons.

So one major concern is walkability.

From the University of North Alabama to Hometown Market it’s right under a 20-minute walk.

“I would love to see a grocery store that is in walking distance of them because transportation is certainly a concern and an issue to some,” said Simmons.

“We cannot continue to depend on food pantries and other things to make sure people have what they need. They need to be able to get to them even if they are walking or riding a bike to do so,” said Eubanks.

Having a grocery store sounds like a great solution but Eubanks says it isn’t the easiest to get grocery businesses into the area.

“We have no say it what businesses choose to come here,” said Eubanks.

So what is a possible solution?

One thing that city officials are hoping will help with walkability issues is a study they are currently doing Knoxville-based Ross/Fowler, P.C. on improving a major city corridor.

Another possible solution?

“For those downtown vendors that do have food, maybe you have a designated section stocked with maybe apples, bananas, and oranges or you have other things that might not require refrigeration that they are sitting on the counter and they can take with them. Even small things like that help alleviate those small challenges with people having access to fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Eubanks.

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