It sounds odd to hear that parts of Adrian, Blissfield and Tecumseh are considered "food deserts." Surrounded by some of Michigan's most productive farmland, the communities' designation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture seems strange.
It takes more to put fresh food on the table than being agricultural, though, as a story about a grant program involving Lenawee County agencies shows. Parts of Adrian, Tecumseh and the Blissfield area were cited for reduced food access, along with 281 other areas in the state.
If nothing else, the "food desert" designations should change how people think about local nutrition and health. Older Americans can remember family gardens as routine.
Trends since then have reduced most people's share of income spent for food, but they also have cut our fresh food and increased heavily processed items.
The road toward eating healthier foods has detours. Most locally grown commodities (corn, soybeans, etc.) are not intended for area dinner tables. Also, the loss of downtown grocers - The Pharm in Adrian as an example - makes shopping harder for many people. Having a healthy food retail outlet within one mile in urban settings (those with at least 2,500 residents) is part of food access.
Other factors include area poverty rates, housing units without a vehicle and the percentage of young children or older adults.
Bringing fresh foods to people who would otherwise avoid carrying bags of produce home on foot or a bus is one goal of the Lenawee project.
A $66,000 grant was awarded to ProMedica through the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program to buy and operate a "veggie mobile" for two years.
Seven local produce providers are working with the Lenawee Health Network to provide the produce, and will be donating it for the first few months to get the program rolling. Another $5,000 grant will promote the Adrian Farmers Market.
There is potential gain for everyone. Many consumers who might never consider vegetables such as fresh squash will have better access. Farmers will expand their markets and, we hope, Lenawee County may eventually benefit from lower obesity rates and better overall health.
Moving certain county areas from desert to oasis, though, will be a long process. It can only happen if people change behavior toward buying, preparing and eating fresh food and passing along those habits to children.
Even that would only be one item toward what's needed to improve county health. Increasing exercise, improving primary medical care and reducing poverty, smoking and substance abuse also are factors.
Talking about the challenge is the first step. ProMedica and the Lenawee Health Network deserve credit for helping us recognize that all of us have a role in moving produce from those farms to our plates.