Living in a Food Desert?


The Oregonian had a feature article on a family living in a food desert neighborhood in Portland. Once a month they take a long bus ride to the Winco in Clackamas, based on the low cost of the food and that they can get there without transferring buses. The grocery stores closer to them are far more expensive or can’t be reached without a bus transfer. I found the article very interesting on many levels.

The article says a lot of energy has gone into getting farmers markets in more locations.
I love farmers markets, but they are not a bargain solution and you can’t get a full range of products at most of them. Veggies and fruit, yes, sometimes bread, rarely meat, fish, eggs or milk products (and always very expensive). Even a complete vegan would have trouble building a balanced diet as there are rarely beans or other protein.

Winco, on the other hand, has a full range of products at great prices. The one near me has a good organic produce section, and their regular produce section, bulk food section, and milk aisle beat even many of the boutique stores for selection. I hate shopping there because it is crowded during normal hours. But I discovered that at 7 am you have the place to yourself, they are stocking but have good selection.

As a walker who subscribes to a CSA, this summer I’ve been basing my diet around the CSA produce and farmers market produce, supplemented with meat from Costco. I make the 1 mile trip on foot to Winco when I need bread or canned goods I can carry back in my backpack. I do that as a fitness activity. Now with bad weather, the farmers markets and CSA down for the winter, I’ll be driving.

The Portland Transport site has a good discussion of the article. Naturally, a lot of folks who try to live car-free post that the family should shop more often on foot or by bike. They shouldn’t put single/couple grocery expectations on a family. I can get by with one or two bags that I could carry 1 mile from Winco, but a family of 4 or more will have a huge load even if they have staples at home.

I grew up in the farming country around Forest Grove. Despite having our own large garden, fruit trees, home-canned fruit and veggies, and beef from grandpa’s steers, we still had to make a weekly trek to the grocery store and fill up the station wagon with bags to feed a family of 6. We were a family that never ate out and didn’t buy prepared packaged food. But it was still a LOT of groceries, every week.

The nearest bus stops to my house are a half mile away and have frequent service, which is a big improvement from living in Tualatin. But that is still a significant distance to carry or wheel any load. Something to think about if age or infirmity ever limits my ability to drive.

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