A special task force is trying to encourage independent grocers to locate in low-income areas in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Grocery Access Task Force is a coalition of more than 50 private and public sector groups who want to create a financial incentive program encouraging independent grocers to locate in so-called food deserts.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food desert is a low-income census tract in which a substantial number of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. That means they may also have little access to healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
The Napier Homes area in Nashville is considered a food desert, and its residents say the local markets don't offer the choices they need to eat a balanced meal.
"I don't buy my food up there. I go up to Murfreesboro Road," said resident Bonnie Wilkerson.
A recent study by the The Food Trust found that nearly 1 million Tennessee residents, including more than 200,000 children, live in food deserts. That is costing the state billions in health-related issues, like diabetes.
"It's important that we have people that are more healthy and will cost us less money as a community. This is critical," said Renee Frazier, with the Tennessee Grocery Access Task Force.
Four areas in Nashville have been identified as food deserts, however, this problem impacts not only urban areas, but rural areas as well.
The grocers are hoping to get the legislature to approve $10 million to jump start a fund to provide seed money to local grocers who locate in food deserts.
Pennsylvania took this approach, and it has led to 68 grocery stores in areas that previously weren't being served.
"We have independent grocers that are ready willing and able to do this. It's just that it doesn't make financial sense," said David Smith, with Associated Wholesale Grocers.
However, dealing with the upfront costs helps make the move into food deserts happen. Scott Means owns H.G. Hill Urban Market, a successful store in downtown Nashville.
"Five years later, it's grown. It's a viable business, but the start-up costs were prohibitive. Without those start-up costs, it wouldn't be there today," Means said.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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