ACCESS Targets Local Food Deserts

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MEDFORD, Ore. – ACCESS is trying to improve healthy eating in Southern Oregon by going after the area’s so-called food deserts.

According to the USDA, nearly 9,000 people in Jackson County live in a food desert – mostly low-income areas with no healthy food within a mile radius.

Crystle Tracksler is one of those residents. She has been feeding her four children on snap benefits for 17 years.

“It’s really easy if you’re eating junk food,” said Tracksler. “But to feed your children well-balanced meals it does become quite a bit of a struggle.”

Most of Tracksler’s fresh produce selection comes from a little basket in the Peach Street Market just a block or two away from her home.

The nearest supermarket is a two-mile trek, one that until recently she had to do without a car.

“We would have to make a whole day of going to get produce or dairy or meat or whatever it was,” said Tracksler.

The result is that many like Tracksler who live in these food deserts tend to eat cheaper, more readily available junk food – and that has big consequences.

“There’s a higher rate of obesity and diabetes in those communities, especially among kids,” said Hannah Ancel, Food Systems Coordinator with ACCESS.

That’s what the healthy corner store project is meant to fix. In year one, ACCESS will be partnering with two to three small corner stores – or convenience stores – throughout Medford, like the Peach Street Market.

Their role is to help those stores get a steady supply of healthy, affordable produce, and then convince nearby residents to buy it.

“When we eat a little bit better, we feel better,” said Ancel. “That’s the motion that we’re going with is really trying to encourage people that they’ll feel better.”

Ancel expects a gradual takeoff, as many corner stores make most of their sales through junk food.

But Tracksler says as more Peach Street Markets expand their health-food selection, business will come.

“I think if there was a little bit more, then customers would just expand greatly,” said Tracksler.