Finding healthy foods in the Lower Ninth Ward is more than just a challenge – it’s nearly impossible. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Lower Ninth Ward is considered a “Food Desert,” meaning it has a population of 500 or more people who don’t have access to a grocery store within a mile from their homes.
On October 20th, in association with National Food Day, The Lower Ninth Ward Food Access Coalition (a project of the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development) took a stand for food security by hosting a “Grocery Store For-A-Day” event in the parking lot of All Souls Church and Community Center. The festival included live music, cooking demonstrations as well as a “pop-up” grocery store, and brought attention to the Lower Ninth Ward’s food desert status while raising money for the development of a mobile grocery store. The program was an incredible success, bringing widespread attention to the issue of food security and hundreds of people to the makeshift grocery store to celebrate. Mitchell Landrieu, the Mayor of New Orleans, even proclaimed October 20th “Lower 9th Ward National Food Day,” affirming the CSED’s hard work.
In 2009 the USDA found that 23.5 million people lacked access to a supermarket within a mile of their home and a nationwide analysis found 418 rural “food desert” counties where all residents lived more than 10 miles from a supermarket or supercenter, accounting for 20 percent of all rural counties. Another multistate study found that eight percent of African Americans live in a tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of white Americans.
In the Lower Ninth Ward, the nearest full-service grocery story is about 3.5 miles away in St. Bernard Parish. According to Lower Ninth Ward activist Jenga Mwendo, about 30 percent of residents lack personal transportation, making a trip to Walmart in the neighboring city of Chalmette that much harder.
“If we had a grocery store it would be a catalyst for other economic development in our neighborhood,” Mwendo told the Times Picayune. “Given we lost about 75 percent of our population after Katrina having something like that would help bring people back and bring in new residents.”
For more on the Lower Ninth Ward food security initiative, check out CSED’s Food Action Plan.