Monday, April 26

Libraries as food desert oases

NPR reports on a clever strategy being rolled out in Baltimore to provide fresh food to underserved neighborhoods. It's being dubbed the Virtual Supermarket. Two library branches have been selected in urban locations where the nearest grocery store is basically inaccessible to anyone without a vehicle. The city public health department helps residents place food orders online using the library computers, and the bag of groceries is delivered the next day from a local grocer.

This program is up and running with the help of a $60,000 federal stimulus grant. According to the NPR story, there are currently a couple of dozen subscribers. This number may grow as people wade into the technology.

There's so much to appreciate about this innovative approach to food access. Delivery costs are held down, because the the orders are aggregated for each day and condensed into a single drop-off point. Libraries get to broaden their horizons a bit, a trend Wendy Waters discussed a little while ago. Some more assistance with computers can only help knock the digital divide down a notch. And, of course, more people get to enjoy the nutritional food at fair prices most of us take for granted.

The department plans to expand Virtual Supermarket to other sites with additional programming, such as cooking demonstrations. Apparently, other cities are watching all of this very closely. Philadelphia has long been known for being on the forefront of food access solutions, but it looks like Baltimore is finding it's own niche.

The following map is from Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. It's their first swat at measuring food deserts in the city.


Eric Orozco said...

What a brilliant idea. Thanks for noting it.

This program might also help keep some branch libraries operating. Most cities/counties are dealing with their budget crises by cutting drastically on the operating budgets of their Parks & Rec and Library departments.

Daniel Nairn said...

Yeah, there was an interesting stand-off between the local elected officials and the library board here this budget cycle. County said they were cutting the budget, and the library board said it would close the weakest performing branch entirely. This hit the news, and the county reinstated the budget. Nothing happened, but it was close.