More than 1.5 million North Carolinians live in a food desert. With the eighth-highest food hardship rate in the nation, more than 20 percent of residents have trouble affording food for their families.
To ease these issues, a bipartisan group of state representatives and senators have proposed HB 250/SB 296, the Healthy Food Small Retailer/Corner Store Act.
“We know that when people live closer to healthy food retail they have a decreased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some kinds of cancer,” explained Sarah Jacobson, Healthy Food Access Coordinator at the North Carolina Alliance for Health (NCAH). “This makes efforts to increase the availability, accessibility and affordability of healthy and local foods an important goal for North Carolina.”
If passed, this legislation will allow local health departments to provide training and equipment for store owners interested in stocking healthy, local food.
“The assistance includes training on food safety rules as well as marketing and food placement advice,” said Jacobson. “The fund also covers equipment such as refrigeration, shelving, and scales, as well as training on requirements for properly stocking produce.”
Additionally, the legislation will encourage partnerships with organizations that participate in SNAP education and other nutrition programs, and could even result in a larger market for local farmers and fishermen.
“This is an opt-in program for thousands of corner stores across the state. The benefit is expanded business and good, healthy food,” said Rep. Yvonne Holley (D-Wake), a co-sponsor of the legislation.
In addition to bipartisan support on the state legislature, the bills also have strong support from voters. A poll conducted by the North Carolina Alliance for Health found that 70 percent of voters support a Healthy Corner Store Initiative, and half of voters realize that healthy food access in low-to-moderate income areas is a serious problem.
Currently, the legislation in both houses of the state legislature has been referred to the respective appropriations committees and will then be scheduled for hearings.
NCAH is hopeful that the bills will be beneficial for the state. “We believe this legislation will result in a triple win for North Carolina: A win for small business; a win for farmers and fishermen; and a win for public health and community revitalization,” Jacobson said.
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