The search for the food desert solution

By Adrianna Pitrelli

INDIANAPOLIS — Thousands of Hoosiers don’t have a way to go get healthy food, but lawmakers are working to bring healthy food to them instead.

“We are really excited about hopefully bringing more food to more people living in urban and rural areas,” Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, said following Wednesday’s Interim Study Committee on Government.

Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, discusses ways for more Hoosiers to have access to healthy food. He said the issue isn’t lack of food, but lack of ways to distribute food to those in need. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli,

The committee met to discuss its final plan for a framework of potential 2018 legislation that would help Hoosiers living in food deserts have better access to healthy food. It comes after House Bill 1077, a bill that would have established a healthy food financing fund to get healthy foods to underserved communities, failed during the 2017 legislative session.

A food desert is a geographical area where fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods aren’t readily accessible. A 2011 IUPUI study found 15 food deserts in Indianapolis that are home to more than 48,000 residents. Since the 2011 study, food has become even less accessible after four Double 8 Foods stores in underserved communities were closed.

Indianapolis isn’t the only affected area. According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Agriculture census, nearly 223,000 Hoosiers live in a classified food desert with low access to a grocery store. Meanwhile, more than 44,500 Hoosiers living in low-income households have minimal access to a grocery store.

Ruckelshaus said a lack of food in Indiana isn’t the problem.

“There is plenty of food in the channels, so that’s not the issue,” Ruckelshaus said. “The issue is distribution and the other issue is food preparation.”

A lack or reliable transportation to a store, as well as a lack of stores in walking distance of residential areas, are reasons Ruckelshaus said people do not have easy access to food.

A 2014 study found Indiana ranked last in the U.S. when it comes to the percentage of residents who live within a five-minute walk of a grocery store.

But the other issue, Ruckelshaus said, is the lack of knowledge on how to prepare the food once they get.

“People are busy and people do not know how to make the food we want to find a way to get people more excited about it,” Ruckelshaus said. “There are a lot of private sectors and non-profits who are doing a great job to help with this.”

Non-profits and private sectors will also play a role in the distribution of the food. The committee’s outlined plan will open an account that will put non-profit and private sector money in it to pay for the distribution. Ruckelshaus has hopes that down the road, state and federal government can contribute to the fund. Since the legislature won’t create a new budget until 2019, he doesn’t see it happening soon.

“But that’s ok because the private sectors are trying to work out some kinks and figure out the distribution angle,” he said. “So when they’re ready to put it into place, we will be ready to put it all together and get more food to the urban and rural areas.”

Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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One Response to The search for the food desert solution

  1. I live in a small town with only one grocery store, and the majority of the residents live at least a mile away. Does this constitute a food desert?