Food desert: Urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.
This definition, provided by the USDA, accurately describes the situation in some of Arizona’s burgeoning cities, where there are neighborhoods of low-income people that have to travel long distances — mostly via public transportation — to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Because of this hardship, many of the residents don’t bother to make such a trek.
Recognizing the negative impact that the lack of access to healthy food can have on a person’s health, a group of Arizona businesses and educators, including Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation and Chase Bank, organized the Fresh Express bus. Traveling between Phoenix and Tempe, the aisles of this renovated city bus are chockablock full of bins containing fresh fruits and vegetables — bringing nutritious produce to people at discount prices.
The Discovery Triangle, a corporation that assists developers in the triangle-shaped area between Scottsdale, Phoenix and Tempe, came up with the ingenious idea when it realized how few grocery stores existed there. Discovery Triangle president Don Keuth told Jill Galus of Good Morning Arizona that a recent study by St. Luke’s Health Initiative designated the area between downtown Tempe and downtown Phoenix as an official food desert. “Although we’re trying to help with economic development issues,” he said, “if we don’t have a healthy community, we’re not helping it reach its full potential.”
The Fresh Express bus starts making its rounds on March 25. Two days a week, the bus will make five stops — two at different public schools and three at places such as senior centers and community centers where a high concentration of low-income people gather. Accompanying services also include free health screenings provided by ASU’s College of Nursing and cooking ideas for health-conscious eating, courtesy of Fresh Express employees.
Instead of hauling bags of groceries across town on the bus, the bus now brings the groceries directly to shoppers. Talk about convenience.