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A contentious Farm Bill heads to U.S. House for debate. Also on our rundown: gaps cited in protections for small-business employees and nonprofit volunteers; plus power out for much of Puerto Rico; and some warning signs, that increased youth activism may not correspond to voter turnout.

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Fund in State Budget Would Aim to Make Food Deserts Bloom

A provision proposed for the state budget aims to help bring healthy groceries to Virginia's food deserts. (American Heart Association)
A provision proposed for the state budget aims to help bring healthy groceries to Virginia's food deserts. (American Heart Association)
February 18, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - A provision proposed for the state budget could help finance healthy groceries for food deserts. More than 1.5 million Virginians, including nearly a half-million children, live in rural and urban areas with limited access to supermarkets.

But the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund could help finance new stores in those parts of the state.

Tamika Quinn, a small-business owner and stroke survivor from Chesapeake, says her nutrition habits were established when she was growing up in a Philadelphia food desert, and her family had a hard time buying fresh produce.

"Two bus trips, and then carry all those grocery bags back home," says Quinn. "It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized we really had limited access to fresh fruit, fresh vegetables."

Quinn was living in another food desert in Norfolk when she had a stroke. Since then, she's changed her diet and is running an organization to help others do the same.

Ron Martin with the small grocery chain Grant's says financing is a huge barrier to starting a store in a food desert. He says profit margins are slim, while the equipment and inventory for even a small store can run close to $1 million.

That means it's tough to expand, says Martin, even when you know there are people who want you to.

"I have calls, Facebook messages, emails on a daily and weekly basis," says Martin. "But it's very expensive to open a grocery store. Something like this will help get some of those areas covered."

Martin says a grocery store can make a huge difference in an underserved area. He says he can see from what sells that people's shopping habits change within a few months of having access to healthy food, and his customers tell him how much difference it makes.

"Where before they were buying the pizzas and pre-made subs, our model is based on fresh produce and fresh meat," Martin says. "They do comment that it's nice to have that stuff available close to home; it's nice to be able to get a gallon of milk."

The budget, which includes the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund, is under discussion at the General Assembly. Information about the proposal is online at healthyfoodva.heart.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA