Living in a food desert means less nutritious options for this local family

Living in a food desert means less nutritious options for this local family

A food desert is a geographic area where the population may have low incomes and low access to healthy foods, mainly due to the lack of grocery stores. Among Escambia, Santa Rosa, Ocaloosa, and Walton counties, 24 geographic regions have been identified as food deserts, affecting more than 102,000 Northwest Florida residents.

While Pensacola and Escambia County have the most individual food deserts, the largest food desert in the region covers the rural parts of northern Walton County. Lloyd Rush lives with his fiancée and two children between DeFuniak Springs and the Florida-Alabama State Line, an area where groceries are scarce.

Hunter Morrison

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WUWF Public Media

“It really affects us, especially with the schedule with the kids,” Rush said.

The nearest grocery store is Piggly Wiggly in DeFuniak Springs, about 20 km away.

“At least, if you want to go to the store to get a drink and come back, you only talk 35 to 40 minutes to do it,” Rush said. “If you are shopping and leaving the house, you can plan to leave for a couple of hours before you come back.”

According to data from US Department of AgricultureSetting up grocery stores to get rid of food deserts is not always possible due to high costs or lack of infrastructure. This leaves many individuals unable or struggling to afford to drive to the nearest grocery store.

This, combined with the higher cost of living, leaves the Rush family with a grocery budget of just $100 per week. This is less than 50% of national average.

“It just passes the money to where we barely live sometimes,” Rush said.

To alleviate food insecurity, Rush and his family attend food pantries, usually twice a month. He says that 50% to 60% of his family’s food comes from pantry. The family is also on food vouchers.

In many cases, those who live in food deserts may be left to buy some of their food at convenience stores or gas stations because a grocery store may be too far away. The Rush family says they sometimes stop at gas stations to pick up food, but try to avoid them as much as possible.

“If we can’t get to town with fuel, or if we’re really thirsty, but we try not to stop at those places,” Rush said. “When you’re out of town like that, you’re talking about Mountain Dew instead of being $1.50, they’re going to try to charge you $3. That’s when you have to use your brain and say ‘Okay, am I waiting, right, or do I need to go to town?'” And pick up something in bulk instead.”

Food at gas stations and convenience stores tends to be less nutritious and more expensive than that found in grocery stores. Although it is closer, the closest gas station to Rush headquarters is still seven miles away.

Rush also says he and his family are looking for volunteer opportunities on Facebook where they can work for food.

“We usually do it once or twice a month because we don’t want to hinder people,” he said. “Let someone who gets it that week need it more than us.”

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Hunter Morrison

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WUWF Public Media

Goats in the ownership of Rush

Those who live in food deserts are more likely to suffer from malnutrition due to lack of access to groceries and nutritious foods. Often, this includes a lack of access to staples such as fruits and vegetables.

“[The hardest part is] Sometimes you don’t eat the healthiest foods,” Rush said. “Sometimes when we eat during the week, we basically have leftovers from the night. We’re not going to sit as a family, we’re just eating leftovers and eating in the living room instead of the kitchen table, trying to make it fun.”

If you know someone who is food insecure, visit Feed the search page for help in the Gulf Coast. You may also call the United Way of West Florida’s 2-1-1 resource service line.

This story is part of a series about the food deserts of Northwest Florida. For more information about food deserts, click over here.


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