UMD professor’s research helps solve Duluth’s food access problems

 The Lincoln Park Farmer’s Market is open each Thursday until Oct. 19 from 4-7 p.m. Photo by Alex Ganeev.

The Lincoln Park Farmer’s Market is open each Thursday until Oct. 19 from 4-7 p.m. Photo by Alex Ganeev.

UMD associate professor Adam Pine has been conducting research for the last several years on food deserts in the Duluth communities of Lincoln Park and Morgan Park. His research has led to a number of initiatives in the two communities that try to make food as accessible as possible, including Community Action Duluth and Fair Food Access. According to Aimee Foster at Community Action Duluth, these solutions were brought forward by community residents within the food desert.

“We went into the neighborhood with residents in Lincoln Park and asked questions related to food security and food access,” Foster said. “Lincoln Park is a USDA designated food desert, and during the canvassing they would ask people how food secure they felt and what kind of next steps they wanted in their community in regards to food security and overwhelmingly they wanted a farmer’s market, more community gardens, and an actual grocery store.”

Foster said that the Lincoln Park Farmer’s Market accepts people that are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). Residents can use their EBT card and the market will match their purchase up to $15, which means $15 off their EBT money is good for $30 at the market.

“Another project that has come out is more community gardens, so they started the Emerald Community Garden and there’s a new community garden at the Harrison Community Center,” Foster said. “They also started a new bus route with the DTA that goes through the neighborhood and goes directly to the Super One in West Duluth.”

Angie Miller, who also works at Community Action Duluth, said that groundbreaking for a deep winter greenhouse began in September in front of Denfeld High School in West Duluth. The produce grown there will be sold at the Harrison Community Center twice a month during the winter. Miller said that the Lincoln Park Farmer’s Market is a step toward solving the food access problems in the community.

“It’s more and more a place where you can actually do grocery shopping because there’s more than just vegetables, there’s probably seven or eight vendors at least, there are baked goods, there’s all kinds of things at the market,” Miller said. “It is really becoming one part of the food access puzzle; it’s not the whole solution. What we would like is a grocery store in this neighborhood.”

 Members of the Lincoln Park community have easier access to a wide range of affordable foods. Photo by Alex Ganeev.

Members of the Lincoln Park community have easier access to a wide range of affordable foods. Photo by Alex Ganeev.

While market research has indicated that Lincoln Park doesn’t support a full service grocery store, there has been a Kwik Trip location that has opened in the area within the last few years, according to Miller.

“Kwik Trip has a lot more food options,” Miller said. “They have a whole meat cooler, they have cheese, yogurt, they have all kinds of things that are a small step toward addressing the food desert.”

Adam Pine’s research on food deserts in Duluth has been used in grants to get funds for organizations that are trying to increase food access in West Duluth. Both Foster and Miller said that Duluth’s food access problems are far from being completely solved, but there have been many steps in the right direction.

“There are still huge problems, and if you look at maps from the 1940s or 50s, there used to be these corner market stores every couple blocks that were family-run, small grocery stores and now those have largely disappeared and there are more and more food deserts,” Foster said. “We’re far from solving the problems but it’s a step towards the right direction for sure. But it’s not just a problem in Lincoln Park either, it’s a problem throughout Duluth.”

Community Action Duluth tries to solve food access problems not just by bringing food closer to Lincoln Park, but they understand that food deserts are also exacerbated by lack of transportation and income.

“Food deserts are complicated because they’re not just about a lack of a grocery store,” Miller said. “They’re about a lack of income and a lack of transportation, so we’re addressing all three of those here.”

Miller said that 22 percent of Lincoln Park residents do not have a car, which is why Community Action Duluth offers a car loan program and a car donation program in order to provide residents in need with transportation to a grocery store. Along with a farmer’s market, community garden, and grocery store, Lincoln Park residents asked for a grocery bus that could take them to and from a full service grocery store.

 Among the foods that can be found at the Lincoln Park Farmer’s Market is fresh produce. Photo by Alex Ganeev.

Among the foods that can be found at the Lincoln Park Farmer’s Market is fresh produce. Photo by Alex Ganeev.

“You can have food shelves but it’s still hard to get food from food shelves if you don’t have a way to haul it home,” Miller said. “Who can carry boxes and hold a toddler’s hand and walk six blocks? The things people expect people to do are very unrealistic, to get to where you need to go with your kids with no money and no transportation.”

Community Action Duluth tries to solve the food desert problem by being a one stop shop for all kinds of services. They offer services to help with employment, taxes, insurance, credit scores, debts, savings, buying a house, going to college, and even starting a business. All of these resources help solve the biggest underlying problem in food deserts, which is lack of income.

“There’s a lot more work but people do appreciate the solutions that have been created so far and all of these things were things that came from the neighborhood,” Miller said. “They are the ones who asked for a farmer’s market, a grocery store, community gardens, and a grocery bus, so they were things brought by people who live here.”

CultureTyler Schendel