Food deserts occur when a community lacks easy access to nutritional food, usually because there is no grocery store within walking distance. Many grocery stores avoid low-income neighborhoods because profit margins there are very low.

This problem extends to 33 of South Carolina’s 46 counties, and into every state of the union.

A recent story in the Baltimore Sun suggests, however, that there are ways to incentivize grocers to invest in lower-income neighborhoods. They are attempting to do just that by offering tax incentives to those who open supermarkets in these neighborhoods.

The article documents the negative cascade of effects to communities without access to healthy food, explaining:

“Food deserts aren’t just an inconvenience for poor city residents. They’re also a serious public health problem and a drag on economic development in struggling neighborhoods. The lack of access to healthy foods leads to poor dietary choices that contribute to conditions such as obesity and to illnesses like asthma, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Children who don’t grow up eating healthy meals are especially hard hit, and the effects of poor nutrition can affect their development throughout their lives. The link between public health and diet — particularly the fats, sugars and cholesterol that characterize convenience store foods and carryout menus — is well-documented in the 20-year disparity in life expectancy between residents of the city’s poorest and wealthiest neighborhoods.”

The SC Food Access Task Force, formed in 2013, has been working to bring these same issues to public attention in South Carolina. The task force continues this work today, advocating for state funding to support the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) which would help increase access to healthy food in food desert communities throughout the state.

HFFI would be a public-private partnership, which would support local farmers and businesses by providing access to loans and grants to support the establishment, renovation or expansion of different food projects, including farm businesses, mobile markets, small food stores, and grocery stores. These funds would be available specifically for healthy food access projects focusing on food desert communities, which, similarly to Baltimore City’s approach, would incentivize and promote the establishment of more healthy food enterprises in underserved, low-income communities.

Find more information on the Healthy Food Financing Initiative here.