In 2014, Indianapolis was named the worst city in the nation for food deserts by WalkScore, a company that promotes walkable neighborhoods. Despite numerous efforts from city officials and neighborhood activists, food deserts remain a problem throughout the city.
In 2015, all Double 8 Foods locations closed unexpectedly. Then, in 2016, all Marsh Supermarkets closed as well. Since then, the number of Indianapolis residents living in a food desert increased 21%. As of today, 208,000 people in the city live in a food desert.
Food deserts are low-income neighborhoods located more than one mile from a grocery store. Rep. André Carson first introduced the Food Deserts Act to Congress in 2016 in an effort to make it easier for grocery stores to open and operate in areas labeled a food desert. Carson introduced the act again in 2019.
Locally, the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee of the city-county council unanimously passed Proposal 258 in June. This proposal is an approach to eradicate food deserts by allocating $580,000 to create a “Food Compass” app to provide information on nearby grocery stores, as well as creating a trial program with Lyft to provide discounted rides to grocery stores to those living in food deserts, among other endeavors.
The Lyft Pilot Support Program offers $1 rides to grocery stores on rides that would otherwise cost $10 or less. This program was originally available for people living on the far east side. On Dec. 18, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced the expansion of the Lyft program to the west side of Indianapolis.
Community members are helping those affected by food deserts and hunger through community gardens. Several Black-owned urban gardens — Lawrence Community Gardens, Elephant Gardens, Mother Loves Garden and Three Sisters Garden — form the Indiana Black Farmers Cooperative. All four gardens are located in a food desert and donate half of its produce to local food pantries, host farmers markets and accept SNAP and WIC, giving people in these areas easier access to healthy foods.
Sharrona Moore, chair of the cooperative, aims to inspire more people to grow their own produce, an effort she hopes will help decrease the number of food deserts in the city.
“The stereotype of what a farmer looks like is usually an older white man, and that’s a huge misconception because if you look back through your history it was always Blacks who farmed,” Moore said in a previous article. “…When you think of farmers, you never think of Black people. Being a Black woman in this industry, when I tell people I’m a farmer, they are amazed.”
Poor people are most at risk of living in a food desert, with 31% of people living below the poverty line living in a food desert. Matt Nowlin, a researcher at the Polis Center, argues that the most effective, long-term solution to food deserts is to increase the minimum wage.
Nowlin, along with fellow Polis Center researcher Unai Miguel, presented the findings of their four-year study on food deserts on Dec. 7 at a “Data and Drafts” event hosted by WFYI.
“We looked at solutions we’ve seen from economists and economic literature about how to increase incomes and reduce the poverty rate,” Nowlin said in a past article. “There’s a lot of natural experiments where one city has raised the minimum wage while others haven’t, and so you can compare the results in those two places to see what the difference is. Generally, what’s been found is that a higher minimum wage has a decrease in poverty rate, and a lower poverty rate would lead to more access to foods and fewer food deserts.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-726-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.