When Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome took office in 2017, she had her sights set on a vision for her community that included fighting food insecurity.
“Access to healthy foods has been a major issue, especially in disinvested communities,” says Broome, referring to neighborhoods from which businesses have withdrawn their investments. “The data show that one in seven individuals in our parish, and one in five children, are food insecure.”
Baton Rouge is not alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 53.6 million U.S. residents, or 17.4% of the population, reside in areas with low access to healthy food, which is defined as living more than a half-mile from a supermarket, supercenter or large grocery store in urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas.
While Broome sought to attract full-service grocery stores to Baton Rouge’s food desert communities, she understood that facilitating such developments would be a long-term effort. Yet her constituents faced immediate food insecurity challenges.
As a solution, in 2018 Broome launched Geaux Get Healthy, a campaign to overcome immediate obstacles to food security. The campaign works with several nonprofit and private-sector partners to facilitate healthy eating by supporting community gardens, food distribution, cooking classes and nutrition education. Still, opportunities to buy affordable, healthier foods remained scarce in some Baton Rouge communities.
During this time, Veneeth Iyengar, who led economic development for Mayor Broome, caught wind of an interesting development at Dollar General. The company, which started selling grocery items in 2003 with its DG Market concept and has more produce than many might assume, had begun expanding the fresh fruit and vegetable offerings at certain Dollar General stores in the country—a big operational and logistical lift for the retailer, but one that, despite the significant challenges, it was eager to take on. That sparked an idea about what could be possible in Baton Rouge.
“When I saw [pictures of] the vibrant-looking vegetables and produce they had, it helped transform my mind in terms of the possibilities for some of our Dollar Generals,” Broome says.
By Natalie Burg | Illustrations by Sarah Maxwell
A Fresh Idea
to Improve Food Security
At the end of the day, it's all about outcomes. Dollar General...shows our food-insecure residents that fresh produce and healthier eating options are within their reach.”
Sharon Weston Broome
Mayor-President, Baton Rouge
Listen to more from Mayor-President Broome on getting healthy food to the citizens of Baton Rouge