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Improving Access to Healthy Food in Illinois

iira winchester.jpg
Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs
The Great Scott! Community Market opened in 2018 in Winchester, Illinois

Federal money will be used to help improve access to food for people in Illinois. The Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University will receive 200,000 dollars to address rural and urban "food deserts" across the state.

The institute's Program Manager, Sean Park, says one definition is living more than 10 miles from a grocery store in rural areas, or more than one mile away in the city.

Midwest Grocery
Darrell Hoemann
Illinois Institure for Rural Affairs
Market on the Hill in Mt. Pulaski, IL on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. photo by Darrell Hoemann/Investigate Midwest

"It's a problem everywhere. It's not just a midwestern thing although I find it particularly ironic that we're growing food but it's going away to be processed and then we have to drive 30 miles to go buy it after it's processed."

The institute helps small communities open grocery stores - the first was in Winchester in Scott County in 2018, then two more in 2020 (Toulon and Mt. Pulaski), and there'll be two more this year (Cutler and Cairo).

"A lot of times I'll go into these farm communities and say this is great but right now I can't buy a tomato in your county, and that's an issue. And that usually gets some folks on board where they go 'yeah you're right that is. You know we spend a lot time farming but I have to leave town to buy groceries.'"

He says the federal money will pay for a new position, plus help the institute conduct marketing surveys and provide legal help for opening stores

Park says you can't expect people to eat healthy food if they have no access to it.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.