BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD)– Some travel miles and miles on foot, searching for the nearest source of relief.
Unlike the Sahara desert, North Baton Rouge residents are not in search of water, but fresh foods. This is their food desert.
These food deserts are an aspect of equity and equality. Food deserts are regions where people have limited access, to healthy and affordable food. This is a problem that has plagued locations across North Baton Rouge for years.
“Basically, for miles away there, there were no supermarkets,” said Eden Park resident Ella Morgan.
Like many, Ella Morgan has had to catch a ride with friends or family to get her weekly shopping done.
“A lot of people in the areas don’t have transportation, so they either wait for someone that has transportation to take them to stores, supermarkets, or some areas. There may be some, some local transportation,” she explained.
She’s lived in Eden Park since she was a little girl. Her father once owned Morgan’s Quality Groceries, one of the few stores in the area.
“He did fresh vegetables, and he grew for himself to sell in the store, to the residents in the neighborhood, such as fresh greens. He grew corn and tomatoes,,” Morgan stated.
It was one of the few establishments open to African Americans in 1946, so for them, it wasn’t just a grocery store.
“Came together to mingle a lot of the men in the neighborhood. And there’s a lot of the neighbors. It was their time to just sit around and meet each other, talk to each other and the place. Yes, this was the place for the neighborhood,” said Morgan.
After a while, her father had to close the shop for health and financial reasons. Morgan moved away for a few years and when she came back, things were not like they used to be.
“But when I moved back, I was really disappointed in the conditions of the neighborhood. Because when I left, businesses were in better condition, people were able to just go in their neighborhoods and find stores and there was one nutritionist product being sold,” she said.
Residents that live in the area believe that it’s been neglected.
“Right now, there’s not a lot to move back for, there is a lot of blight in the area, homes that are condemned that need to be torn down,” she said.
The community frequently meets to find solutions to their problem.
“We form groups to meet with the neighbors down there and try to better the area so we can draw back businesses and draw back working neighbors with incomes that we can better the area,” Morgan explained.
Longtime Southern Faculty Member Janifer Peters said food insecurity is not just affecting households, it’s affecting one of Louisiana’s largest universities.
“This big HBCU, that’s- historically black university system-lives right in the middle of it all,” Peters said.
Southern may nurture students’ minds, but its location could hinder the nourishment of their bodies.
“Our students come here from all parts of the country, and so they do not have the fresh fruit, foods, and vegetables that we all need for our bodies,” said Peters.
Students without transportation often visit nearby fast food joints.
“Students who come to us. Those who do not have cars, you’ll see them walking across hardened and scenic. And that’s taking a chance on their lives,” she said.
Food deserts that exist in Scotlandville and other areas are desperate for ways to access fresh foods. Together Baton Rouge said it just takes a few stores investing in these communities to get the economy back rolling.
“We have to invest. We have to invest in the communities to provide these things where they people can have a chance of having the quality of life that they deserve, that everyone else is,” said Together Baton Rouge Food Desert Project Leader Edgar Cage.
Cage said he has been working to bring back the area for years.
“It’s about perception. It’s the wrong perception. People look at the communities I’m talking about North Baton Rouge, Eden Park, and Scottlandvill,” Cage explained. “And because they are communities of color, they already think that too much crime is there. You know, I can’t open a store there because I’d get robbed. Can’t find anybody to work there because of supposedly the crime.”
Edgar saw how big the need for fresh foods was after a partnership with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank in 2014, a trailer with fresh produce made stops across the food desert.
“We must distribute six or 700,000 lbs of food to residents that would have ended up probably in the landfill if we had not if we not, we had not done it. And that showed the need in the area. And we have people who will start the distribution, sometimes people would be in line at 4:00 in the morning waiting to get the food,” said Cage.
Together Baton Rouge and the city have worked together to bring nearly $2 million dollars to the EBR Healthy Retail Initiative. This initiative offers incentives to stores to move into the area.
“The allocated funds to help an investor grocer or somebody who can provide access to fresh, healthy food with some startup costs, some money to help them get their program started,” said
Leaders of the initiative said they need more stores to apply. They have also looked to work with local leaders and try to create specialized bus routes directly to grocery stores.
“The CATS bus system could have dedicated runs, maybe like on a Saturday, so on Saturdays to and from areas that I would love food access to supermarkets,” he explained.
Cage said their work is far from over. They are still searching for new and equitable ways to bring the area back to life.
“When one community suffers, we all suffer and we can’t turn a blind eye when people are suffering, we have an opportunity to make things better,” he said.
Click here to sign up for the Baton Rouge Healthy Food Retail Initiative.