Dayton among the worst cities for food hardship

It's an almost unbelievable statistic: The Dayton Metropolitan area ranks worst in Ohio and 9th in the country in terms of food hardship. That means thousands of people in our area lack access to a full-service grocery store or can't afford the food when they get there. Nearly every urban area in the Miami Valley has food deserts--including Xenia, Springfield, Troy, and Dayton.

"A food desert is an area where there is limited access to both affordable and nutritious food," explained Laura Roesch, Executive Director of Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley. 

Ruby Taylor lives in a food desert in Jefferson Township. She shops at small markets and gas station stores near her home for food for herself and her three grandchildren who visit her while their mother works. On a recent day, she bought a gallon of milk for $3.50 and a small jar of peanut butter for $2.99. She was hoping to make "ants on a log" for her grandchildren, but the store had no raisins or celery--in fact, no produce at all. 

"Processed food is not good for my grandchildren," said Taylor, "and it's not good for me."

Since Kroger closed its Gettysburg Avenue store in Dayton seven years ago, the west side has a discount grocer and a smattering of corner markets. Damon Ball is raising two small grandchildren by himself. He said, "A half a gallon of milk at the corner store is $2.69." Damon has to take his grandchildren on a bus across town to get nutritious food and lower prices. "I'm trying. It's hard." 

Judy Shields lives off of East Third Street, where she too finds food shopping a challenge. 

"I usually have to take a bus and go to Aldi's or some place like that, then I have to worry about crossing the main thoroughfares to get my groceries home," said Shields, who walks with a cane. 

A check of three convenience stores near her house found not a single item of produce. There is a Food For Less a few blocks away, but it sells mostly canned food and has only a limited selection of fruits and vegetables. 

One solution is an urban farming initiative in the Twin Towers neighborhood in Dayton. Stephen Mackell was planting broccoli on an early spring day. The University of Dayton graduate manages an urban farm for the Mission of Mary Cooperative. Workers and volunteers grow crops and sell the fresh produce to people who live in the neighborhood at prices they can afford.

"We really do need to find a way to get fresh produce and real food, not processed, gas station food, back into urban neighborhoods, " said Mackell.

In Jefferson Township, Ruby Taylor breaks into a little dance when the clerk gives her change back from her purchase. But her glee quickly fades. 

"It's not too good," she said, "I'd rather be in a big store."

Montgomery County leaders would like to see a full-service grocer move into the food desert area in the western part of the county, but Commissioner Judy Dodge says so far their efforts have fallen short. "I don't know what we're going to do," Dodge said.