EDITORIAL: Eat your veggies

York Dispatch

Walk into one of the many corner stores in York City and you'll find a variety of foods.

Frozen dinners are there, along with ice cream. Lots of sodas, energy drinks — even milk and eggs. Some bread, even some canned goods and boxed convenience foods. And snack foods, lots and lots of snack foods.

What you won't find in most of them, though, is fresh vegetables and fruits, the kind that people need to round out a healthy diet. Those in the business say produce vendors won't put those stores on their routes because the stores are too small, so it's not worth their time.

The York Health Corner Store Initiative means to change that. The York City Bureau of Health and the nonprofit York Fresh Food Farms are working together to try to get more fresh produce to the residents of the city.

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In the city, 37.3 percent of residents have income below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census. And of the 16 census tracts in the city, only two aren't considered food deserts, defined as places with no grocery store within a half mile. The city administration pointed out last year, when the corner store initiative was introduced, that a half mile is a long walk when you're carrying groceries, and many city residents don't have cars.

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Thanks to the initiative, three stores in York City have small displays of fresh vegetables from York Fresh Food Farms. The produce is grown on small plots on Willis Street and Roosevelt Avenue, and it's delivered to Pak's Food Market, Green Food Market and Lee's Food Market.

It's too soon to say if the initiative is working, store owners said. 

Part of the problem is that city residents who have been shopping at corner stores for their whole lives don't look for fresh produce and don't know what to do with it.

"It's two to three generations deep who have been removed from fresh vegetables," Bruce Manns, manager of York Fresh Food Farms, told reporter Jana Benscoter. "You can't make people eat anything. But we can reintroduce it to them."

All of York County could use a reintroduction to fresh produce. According to a report from the Healthy York County Coalition, only 4 percent of York County residents ate three servings of vegetables every day in 2014, and 68 percent were overweight or obese.

The Healthy Corner Store Initiative is a good start. Manns discovered that York City residents like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and a variety of peppers, and he's trying to get those and other vegetables to the areas where fresh produce is in short supply.

The next steps will be taking produce from the microfarm into neighborhoods using farm stands and a refrigerated produce truck, Manns said.

This is exactly the kind of program York City needs. The city is coordinating efforts between a local nonprofit and the existing small retail outlets in the neighborhoods to provide a better diet for its residents. 

So Yorkers, it's up to you now. Get to the store, buy some fresh broccoli, cauliflower and peppers, and make some great meals. Your community and your body will thank you for the effort.