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Local grocery retail stores and family-owned groceries used to be the epicenter of rural small towns, but they have faced a variety of challenges forcing closures. Population loss in small towns and rural areas has played a factor in those closures. In turn, the closures now limit the ability of those communities to thrive or to stabilize population. Through the closure of those stores, many areas in the state are now considered food deserts because of the lack of food access. Issues related to healthy food access are both urban and rural problems that impact quality of life. Strategies for community viability will be of utmost importance in attracting and retaining people for economic growth in these struggling areas.
With improvements in food access, local communities benefit from the conveniences sought by many. Young adults are more likely to stay in their community or move to areas similar to those where they grew up. Lack of food access, like lack of broadband, is yet another disadvantage facing small communities and holding them back from advancing in today’s society.
Eliminating food deserts will improve quality of life for residents by providing convenient access to groceries and the opportunity for a healthier lifestyle through availability of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. There is an opportunity to strengthen economic development, reduce the sense of inconvenience sometimes felt when living in a small town, and stabilize rural populations. This could increase the potential for growth in the local tax base by attracting more residents and small businesses.
Farmers have the opportunity to support their local community and fill the gap by providing locally sourced food. There are numerous potential partners to address these issues, including small-town retailers, extension, county commissioners, farmers participating in the local food markets, and proponents of food cooperatives. Addressing food deserts also provides farmers the opportunity to connect on shared issues with urban areas and partner with legislators who represent those areas.