Local advocates for the needy have warned for years about “food deserts” in poor communities that make it difficult for some residents to find affordable fruits and vegetables. Now, there’s a dose of good news: A new study says San Diego-area low-income residents got a big boost from a government program designed to encourage healthy eating and support farmers markets in poor neighborhoods like City Heights.
Thousands of local residents who get government assistance enrolled in the program and received vouchers to buy nutritious foods like produce, meat, bread and eggs at farmers markets. The participants spent about $330,000 from 2010-2011, or about $93 per person.
There are some caveats. No one knows whether any area residents actually became healthier as a result of the program, which has dwindled from its high point of serving several communities because of funding woes. And participants are only allowed to spend the extra money at farmers markets. They can’t use it to buy food at supermarkets, chain stores like Target or Costco or corner shops.
Still, the incentive program was “definitely a success,” said Blanca Melendrez, who oversees obesity prevention programs sponsored by UCSD and helped establish the farmers market in the City Heights neighborhood in 2008.