Bill Aims to Make Nutritious Food More Available, Affordable in Desert Communities

Access and Economics Often Barriers to Healthy Meals

With some New Jersey families living more than a mile from a supermarket, healthy, affordable food options, such as fresh produce, can be scarce. To help eliminate such barriers, Assembly Democrats Adam Taliaferro, Carol Murphy and Anthony Verrelli have introduced a bill to establish a two-year food desert pilot program that would make nutritious food more available. The Assembly Human Services Committee approved the bill Thursday.

“For many New Jersey residents, consuming a healthy diet is a matter of access and economics,” said Taliaferro (D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland). “While families may desire to eat well-balanced meals, they don’t always have access to the fresh fruit and vegetables to make such meals possible.”

The bill (A4704) directs the Department of Agriculture to create a two-year program that would establish year-round, weekly produce markets in three food desert communities, including one in a rural area. As defined by the bill, a food desert community is a municipality or area of the state where residents have limited access to supermarkets, grocery stores, and farmers markets.

“The markets will allow residents to purchase fresh, healthy produce at a reasonable cost said Murphy (D-Burlington). “It will enable people to get good food right in their community.”

Food at the market would be supplied by one or more partnering providers approved by the Department of Agriculture. These providers would be required to:

· Accept cash, credit, debit, and food vouchers for produce at any market operating under the program

· Offer reduced price produce packages · Include recipes using the produce as well as storage guidelines detailing how to keep produce fresh

· Donate excess produce from the markets to local food banks and nonprofit organizations for distribution to the needy

Providers would work with local public schools and community organizations to operate the markets.

“Food insecurity continues to be a local and national problem,” said Verrelli (D-Hunterdon and Mercer). “This pilot will help us show families that healthy nutritious meals really can be within their reach.”

The bill is modeled after “Produce in a SNAP” — a series of community markets, supported by the Hungry Harvest food rescue program, which sells low-cost produce in food deserts throughout Baltimore.

The bill was introduced in October. It now awaits further review by the Assembly.