It may be rural, but New Jersey is home to 50 “food deserts,” and it takes $40 million in carrots a year to attract businesses that can supply residents with fresh fruits and vegetables.
New Jersey’s Food Desert Relief Program will provide up to $240 million in tax credits, loans, grants and technical assistance over the next six years to attract providers to these 50 underserved areas.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority estimates that 1.5 million residents live in one of these so-called deserts, including 330,229 in Essex County, 133,609 in Passaic County, and 10,478 in Morris County.
Fairview is Bergen County’s only municipality, largely because its 1,135 residents share a retail area with neighboring Hudson County, leaving an estimated 303,129 underserved residents. It’s for
“Access is key,” said Susan Coracurcio, executive director of Fairview’s Franciscan Community Development Center. “These people don’t have cars and can’t afford to take a taxi or a shared bus, so they have to walk to the store. They carry less food per trip.”
According to CEO Tim Sullivan, the agency plans to issue participation rules later this year.
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A food desert is one in which access to affordable, healthy food is limited or non-existent because grocery stores offering nutritious foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables are far away. Not a geographical area.
The New Jersey program is part of the Economic Recovery Act passed last January. Local governments were given factor scores based on retail environment, demographic, economic and health indicators. Camden/Woodlyn had the worst overall access to healthy food out of the 50 locations selected, with a score of 100. Sussex County’s Montagu Township scored 26.1. Passaic was the worst in Passaic County with 81.3. Fairview came in at 48.3.
North Jersey “desert” sites include:
- Bergen County: fair view
- Passaic County: Passaic, Paterson, Prospect Park, Haldon, Hawthorne
- Morris County: Dover
- Essex County: Newark, Irvington, East and West Orange, Orange, Montclair
- Sussex County: montague
Clifton’s City Green runs a variety of food-related programs and “follows this very closely,” said Jasmine Moreano, director of advocacy and community engagement.
“I think they are going in the right direction, thinking outside the box,” Moreno said. “There are many variables that contribute to these areas and the goal is to make food more accessible and affordable.”
Moreno cited her own family’s experience of struggling with access after Passmark was closed in Paterson. That meant a bus trip to Fair Lawn’s ShopRite.
“There are many factors,” Moreno said. “Small stores need help buying refrigerators so they can store their fresh produce. Farmers His Market workers need help with wireless terminals so they can process SNAP. . [Supplemental Nutrition Access Program]A lot of little things like this make it very difficult to set up in these areas. ”
New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher has cited the state’s 10,000 farms as a hope for the future.
“We are leveraging the ingenuity of farmers and the resources made available through the Food Desert Relief Act to provide food-insecure New Jerseyers with access to fresh fruits and vegetables grown on these farms. You can and must do so.
Click here to view an interactive map of the Food Desert.
Marsha Stoltz is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. Subscribe now or activate your digital account for unlimited access to the most important news from your local community.
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