USDA Grant Aims to Create Greater Food Access in Lake County

legacy-foundation-logoLegacy Foundation receives $226,119 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to address food deserts in Gary and East Chicago. The Foundation partnered with The NWI Food Council, City of Gary Department of Environmental Affairs/Green Urbanism and Lake County Purdue Extension to apply for the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program to address high rates of poverty and food insecurity in northern Lake County, Indiana.

“Access to healthy food is something many of us take for granted. We can easily drive to the grocery store or visit our neighborhood farmers market and pick up fruits and vegetables, but there are so many in our community who lack the ability to do this. We think that’s unacceptable,” said Legacy Foundation President, Carolyn Saxton.

Nearly 75,000 people in Lake County are food insecure, according to Map the Meal Gap, a Feeding America study. Food insecurity refers to a lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. According to the USDA, there are 24 food deserts in Lake County and 14 of those are in Gary. That means that more than 33% of the population along the census tract lives over a mile from a supermarket or grocery store. The lack of access to nearby food in low-income areas is often worsened by financial and transportation barriers.

The new three-year program will add food markets and mobile markets for residents in Gary and East Chicago and increase the number of farmers markets eligible to accept benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Currently, there are only two SNAP eligible farmers markets in the city of Gary.

Through this program, new farmers markets will be created in both Gary and East Chicago and capacity will be expanded for a Gary farmers market. All eight farmers markets already operating throughout Lake County will receive capacity building and technical assistance. The project aims to increase consumption of and access to locally grown produce for residents in food deserts. It will expand marketing, outreach, technical assistance, education and local sales for farmers, and create a mobile food market to reach residents in at least half of the 24 food desert census tracts.

“We want to provide people with locally grown food that offers them healthy choices at an affordable cost,” said Legacy Foundation Community Development Director, Bushra Rehman. “This program not only provides access to healthy food but also address challenges like transportation which often limits people’s options.”

In the coming fall and winter seasons, Legacy Foundation and partners will work to get local urban farms eligible to receive SNAP benefits. New farmers markets and the mobile market are slated to begin in the summer of 2019.