How to escape food deserts, food swamps in San Antonio area

City, San Antonio Food Bank initiatives help increase access to healthy food options

SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Food Bank has separate programs with the same goal: Increase healthy food options in areas of town known as “food deserts,” which are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as low-income areas where the nearest grocery store is more than a mile away.

Viva SA Healthy Food Corner Store

Convenience stores are not normally known for their healthy food options, but the Viva SA Healthy Food Corner Store program was designed to change that by helping supply store shelves with fruits and vegetables. The program, which started back in 2019 with only a few locations, has now expanded to over 30 locations.

According to the City of San Antonio’s website, locations and corner stores are selected based on food desert data as determined by the USDA’s Food Atlas, acceptance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by the corner stores, community health worker (CHW) input, community member feedback, distance from a grocery store, and store owner interest. The program helps stores with supply costs and promotion. At the end of the program, the hope is store owners will have more experience to sell fresh produce successfully without the subsidy.

“We are helping support local small businesses and in their endeavor to create more accessibility for people in the neighborhoods, and that helps support our economy as well,” said Jamie Gonzalez, director of community feeding programs for Big State Partners.

“In the past year, we have sold over 100,000 pounds of produce out of all of our stores,” said Becca Hurliman, a Healthy Corner Stores Program specialist.

Over 50 types of fruits and vegetables are presently sold in the program.

Mobile Mercado

For those who may not be able to visit a corner store, the San Antonio Food Bank has another option. Since 2016, the Mobile Mercado has been set up around different parts of town, giving residents who live in food deserts access to free fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods at affordable prices.

“The Mobile Mercado is designed to do just that,” said Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank. “It is designed in some ways to provide hydration to the food desert, to give people access to good, healthy food right at the curb.”

At every Mobile Mercado location, there’s also a nutritionist who can make tasty meals with healthy ingredients found in the truck.

“You know, our nutritionists talk about the drawer of good intentions in all of our refrigerators. It’s usually the produce drawer, right? You bought it thinking, ‘how I’m going to make this?’ but then you didn’t and then you threw it away. And so, those good intentions will never nourish you. It’s not healthy unless you actually eat it,” Cooper said.

Both programs are also designed to help curb the effects of a “food swamp,” which is where access to fast food is abundant while healthy foods are not easily found.

“Oftentimes a food swamp can be located in a food desert, which just means that the community has a higher probability of high rates of heart disease, high rates of diabetes, high rates of chronic tension. And so the Food Bank’s mission is to fight hunger and feed hope,” Cooper said. “But it’s the right food in the right amount at the right time that truly nourishes. And that’s what the Mobile Mercado is trying to do.”

Solutionaires Livestream

Join us for Solutionaries. Thursday, June 30th at 5:30pm CT.

Here’s what you can expect from our next episode:

Baby Formula Shortage: Crowdsourced baby formula solutions

Food Deserts: Providing nutritious options and opportunities for at-risk areas

Food Swamps: Many food options — many unhealthy food options.

Make Food Medicine: Breaking the cycle of poor nutrition and the health issues that come with unhealthy foods.

Meet the “Moo Crew”: A group making milk available to many while raising awareness and gathering donations to help Virginia’s food insecurity.

The Spaces Between: Ensuring everyone eats. Including those caught between qualifying for assistance and those just outside the requirements.

On Solutionaries, we’re highlighting the creative thinkers and doers who are working to make the world a better place.

Solutionaries is a production of the news teams at Graham Media Group stations KPRC-Houston, WDIV-Detroit, KSAT-San Antonio, WKMG-Orlando, WJXT/WCWJ-Jacksonville and WSLS-Roanoke.

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About the Author

Mario Orellana is the news director at KSAT.

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