City leaders dedicate $5M to address Rochester’s growing food desert

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) – $5 million—that’s how much Rochester Mayor Malik Evans and several other city leaders are committing to help shrink the growing food deserts in parts of the city.

Evans plans to set up a program that will bring fresh food, and groceries to neighborhoods that often lack these services.

According to food policy analysts, Rochester is considered a "food swamp," meaning as an urban community there’s an abundance of food that is unhealthy, but what’s healthy for you is actually hard to find, or unaffordable for some people.

"By the time we get here all like the ice, everything that’s like frozen is melted. So to have something closer would be a lot better," said Imani Walker describing what it’s like to live in the middle of a food desert. She knows what it’s like to travel miles from home in the northeast quadrant of Rochester just to shop for groceries. Recently Mayor Evans announced a $5 million plan to bring markets to areas in need.

Walker added, "That way people don’t have to travel really far to Irondequoit, or Henrietta to go get groceries and stuff, and people can walk to the stores to get their groceries, and they don’t have to find some sort of transportation if they don’t have one."

According to the USDA Food Access Atlas from 2021, this area of Rochester is a food desert. If you look closely its southern border is Clifford Avenue. It stretches east to Culver Road, west to North Goodman Street, and north to Norton Street.

Dana Miller, City Commissioner of The Neighborhood and Business Development Department tells us there are only 11 supermarkets that are over 10,000 square feet. 3 in the northeast, 2 in the northwest, 4 in the southeast, and 2 in the southwest.

If you stood in front of the Friendship Children’s Center located at 310 Fernwood Avenue, the nearest supermarket is more than a mile away.

"The local options for grocery stores would be Wegmans on Culver Ridge, Tops on East Ridge. That’s pretty much it," said Jessie Chandler who used to live in the northeast quadrant.

Corner stores fill the void but rarely provide fresh produce. Dr. DJ Robinson wants to see real grocery stores in the community, not only for fresh groceries, but job opportunities as well.

"That brings a level of satisfaction. Now you feel that there are more opportunities for people to provide for their families to stop relying on subsidies," said Robinson.

The $5 million will come from the Federal American Recovery Act which the city has already received.