February 2, 2023


Food loaded for bear

Here’s who is helping Columbus residents in the food desert

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Local leaders and organizations are finding creative solutions to make food accessible in the Chattahoochee Valley, where more than half of the residents of Columbus live in a food desert.

A food desert is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as densely populated low-income areas that do not have easy access to grocery stores or supermarkets. People who live in food deserts have higher risks of health problems, as many turn to processed, high-calorie foods in place of fresh foods.

To combat food deserts, people in Columbus are making plans to get mobile food markets to new areas of the city, expanding mobile food pantries and teaching people how to cook with simple ingredients.

In Muscogee County, 111,790 people lived in a food desert, according to the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment from Piedmont Columbus Regional. As the most recent report released, it helps officials identify top health priorities through 2022.

“(Some residents) don’t have anything within, approximately, a couple miles from their home to get to a source of food,” said Feeding the Valley director Frank Sheppard.

Dozens of nonprofits across Columbus collaborate to tackle food insecurity, but the issue is complicated, said The Food Mill director Olivia Amos. The Food Mill is a nonprofit that uses fresh produce to prepare healthy meals that it delivers to help combat food insecurity in the North Highlands community.

“There’s not really just one area that you can approach, have a program and think that it’s going to change things over the long term,” she said. “You really have to address all of the different layers of food insecurity. And access is a big piece of that.”

Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson announced a new fleet of mobile vehicles purchased by the city, offering pop-up health clinics, farmer’s markets and recreation activities to underserved neighborhoods in the city.