Limited access to nutritious food is an issue facing rural communities in Missouri and the nation at large, according to University of Missouri specialists.
MU Extension community development specialist, Kara Lubischer, said the Midwest is affected by “food deserts.” Those are areas where people must travel at least 10 miles to a place where food is sold – not counting convenience stores. According to the USDA, 2,300,000 people in the U.S. live in food deserts, which are most prevalent in the Great Plains region – where 418 counties have a food desert. Lubischer said having a source of nutritious food in small communities cuts down on health problems and supports the local economy.
“Not only does it provide the sales tax to the local government off the purchases,” Lubischer said, “but it also supports the local farm economy if there is a partnership between our Missouri producers and rural retailers.”
According to Lubischer, both the MU Extension and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services are developing resources for rural communities that are considering their options for food sources. She said the organizations expect to publish a healthy retailing toolkit to help people in rural areas with decisions relating to food, retail, and nutrition.
Another MU Extension community development specialist – Connie Mefford – has worked with the people of Pilot Grove, Mo., for the past three years. Pilot Grove is an agricultural community with a population of 762 that has been without a grocery store since 2004.
“They felt very strongly that they wanted a grocery store there,” Mefford said. “They wanted to see that their neighbors that were senior citizens had access. They were willing to come together and put their money down and form this investment group.”
People living in Pilot Grove formed a limited liability corporation to use the land, funds and time from 25 investors for a community grocery store. Mefford said members of the Pilot Grove community are excited about having a grocery store and expect it to open in mid-December.