City Council approves proposal to help attract grocers to food deserts

Eliminating food deserts in the Jacksonville area

Help is on the way for food deserts across the city.

The City Council passed a proposal Wednesday that could pave the way to provide incentives for big chain grocers to open stores in underserved communities.

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There are 40 food deserts in Jacksonville, a third of them in the Northwest area.

A food desert is an area in which healthy food options are difficult to find.

Larry Brown lives in a food desert.

“I normally just buy what’s in the area,” Brown said.

Aside from fast food, the occasional Family Dollar, a farmer’s market and a Save A Lot, Brown doesn’t have many options.

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He sometimes must go all the way to the Harvey’s in downtown.

“I have to catch at least two buses to get to Harvey’s,” said Brown.

Dr. Sunil Joshi, who’s the foundation president of the Duval County Medical Society, said people who live in a food desert are at a disadvantage.

“There’s an increased risk for not only heart disease, cancer, and stroke but there’s also an increased risk for premature mortality,” Dr. Joshi.said.

The Duval County Medical Society helped draft the proposal to attract grocers.

“No one goes into business to lose money. They want to go into a place where they’re going to be successful financially,” Dr. Joshi said.

The incentives would help fund some of the costs that go into building a grocery store. Tax incentives could be thrown in, too.

But Dr. Joshi said it goes much further.

“If you have folks from the neighborhood working at the stores you’re more likely to get support from that neighborhood,” Dr. Joshi said.

So far, the proposal has received a lot of support. Dr Joshi is hopeful it can be the first step in transforming parts of town that have been left behind.

The city has set aside $3 million for this project. It’s unclear how much the grocery store would get because once a company shows interest, an incentive package will need to be approved again by City Council before it can be offered to the grocer.