Introduction

Access to fresh and healthy food is one of the main building blocks of a successful and healthy neighborhood. A 2010 white paper published by PolicyLink and The Food Trust (which references over 130 other studies) shows that increases in fresh and healthy food availability leads to significant benefits for communities, including healthier eating options, lower risks of diet-related chronic diseases, and the potential for creating employment opportunities for neighborhood residents.

In the North End of Lexington, access to fresh and healthy food options is limited. The image located below comes from the University of Kentucky Department of Geography’s Atlas for a Community Mapshop and displays the lack of options in the North End.

In late 2015 and early 2016, the North Limestone CDC co-hosted a series of community dinners and workshops with the University of Kentucky’s Community Innovation Lab and 10 community researchers. These community dinners looked to determine barriers that currently existed for healthy food options in the North End, what residents’ ideal remedies to these barriers were, and then identify the obstacles that would need to be overcome in order for those remedies to work. To determine this, the following questions were asked:

  • How can people get healthy fresh food in the North Limestone neighborhood?
  • What is your vision for food access in the North Limestone neighborhood in the next five years?
  • What are the barriers to purchasing healthy, fresh food in the North Limestone neighborhood? 

These questions were designed to create a strategic plan for growing access to fresh and healthy foods based on the perspectives and viewpoints of neighborhood residents. The questions and their responses are catalogued in the Northside Common Market Community Report, published by the North Limestone Community Development Corporation and the University of Kentucky Community Innovation Lab. The following sections detail some of the findings in that report.

Current Ways to Access Fresh and Healthy Foods

Many of the attendees at the community dinners reinforced the evidence of limited options for purchasing fresh and healthy food within the North End. The majority of respondents indicated that the current options for accessing healthy foods were through grassroots approaches - including community gardens and CSA programs. 

Several respondents also indicated they accessed fresh and healthy food outside to the North Limestone area, including locations like Sav-A-Lot, Kroger’s, and Trader Joes. While these options are within driving distance of the neighborhood (with Sav-A-Lot and the Kroger’s on Bryan Station Rd. being the closest), lack of access to auto transportation made them largely inaccessible. Of the locations that were walkable, residents indicated they were concerned about crossing the busy roads that essentially “cut them off” - North Broadway for Sav-A-Lot, and New Circle Road for Kroger.

Unique Food Access

As a response to few options for fresh and healthy food access in the neighborhood, the North End has become home to many unique options for accessing fresh and healthy foods, including Seedleaf’s community gardens, and the co-operative Fresh Stop Markets program. While these options provide relief for residents, without increased support they can not necessarily fully replace a full-service grocer located within the neighborhood. Community Gardens in the North End are also profiled in the Public Space section of this document.

 
 

“How can people get healthy fresh food in the North Limestone neighborhood?”

 
 

Barriers to Growing Food Access

There are significant barriers towards growing food access in the North End, many of which stem from the histories of economic and racial segregation that are discussed in other sections of this document. Due to the economic realities that some North End residents face combined with the low margins of the grocery business, it would be difficult for a traditional for-profit neighborhood grocer to be able to successfully establish a location in the North End.

Many residents identified significant barriers for growing access to fresh and healthy food options within the North End that extended beyond simple access and availability. Out of all of the responses to the question regarding barriers to access, the three largest barriers to fresh and healthy food access in the North End involved the cost, the time to prepare it, and the transportation get to it.

 
 

“What are the barriers to purchasing healthy, fresh food in the North Limestone neighborhood? ”

Financial Barriers

The largest reported barrier to purchasing fresh and healthy food in the North Limestone Neighborhood / North End was economic. Community members noted that the high price of fresh and healthy food, in tandem with the economic constraints of limited income, make the prospect of increased access very difficult. This is, more than likely, the reason that alternative economic models were frequently brought up when discussing how to improve food access. 

Bluegrass Double Dollars, a pilot project of Bluegrass Farm to Table, is designed to make healthy, local produce more readily available to SNAP users in the Lexington area by doubling the purchasing power (up to $10 per transaction) of SNAP participants to be used toward local produce at locations throughout Lexington.

One user of the Bluegrass Double Dollars program is the Castlewood Fresh Stop Market CSA. Its cooperative economic model is a prime example of a grassroots food justice effort that provides equitable access to residents of all types. Their tiered pricing model - a share costs $6 for WIC recipients, $12 for SNAP recipients, and $25 for everyone else -  allows for community members at all economic levels to purchase local produce. Castlewood CSA runs from June through October.

Time

For many, locating, purchasing and preparing healthy food is challenging, and consuming more time to do so, especially when fast food is more readily and quickly available. Many stores in the area don’t even offer adequate healthy food options alongside “fast food” options.

Transportation

Transportation also proved to be a barrier. For residents that relied on public transportation, the difficulties of using LexTran’s hub-based transit system made traveling with bags of groceries very difficult. For many, the Kroger’s on Bryan Station and Sav-A-Lot on North Broadway were just far enough away to be inconvenient, especially those working multiple jobs or those with large families to feed.

Vision for Expanding Affordable, Fresh, & Healthy Food Access

There were many strategies discussed by North End residents for how to expand affordable fresh and healthy food access. These ideas mostly focused around expanding the current grassroots efforts, as well as working to establish a grocery or market with healthy food options within the community.

Residents also discussed alternative models, which demonstrated a concern that many residents had about the topic in general. While the introduction of traditional groceries and small markets might technically address the availability of fresh foods, this would only remove the physical access barrier, and not the many economic barriers that residents face. Building on cooperative models like Fresh Stop, and low-cost community-maintained models like Seedleaf’s community gardens can help expand food access, but in order for the problem to be fully addressed, more systemic issues need to be considered.

Community Meeting for the Cultural Plan

Recommendations

 

1

Provide support for grassroots, neighborhood-based alternative economic programs like Fresh Stop Market to expand their services.

2

Continue the community conversations / dinners regarding needs for improving access to fresh and healthy foods. 

3

Determine methods to increase locations with affordable, fresh, and healthy food options, as well as examine methods to increase transportation access to locations that already have these options.

4

Encourage neighborhood restaurants to put low-cost healthy food options on their menus, and create and carry affordable, pre-prepared “fresh-to-go” meals.

5

Create incentives for new and existing businesses to hire long-term and low-income neighborhood residents.

6

Encourage policies to better allow food to be grown in front-yards and allow the sale of produce from community gardens.