Food accessibility was the staple ingredient at SCC’s community meeting held last Thursday at the Mystic Community Center. ~Photo by Douglas Yu

Food accessibility was the staple ingredient at SCC’s community meeting held last Thursday at the Mystic Community Center. ~Photo by Douglas Yu

By Douglas Yu

In order to make the best use of the land resources, Somerville Community Corporation (SCC), cooperating with Somerville residents and other community organizations, led a free discussion about land use in a food access context. That is, how we can look at public, private, open, vacant and inhabited space in Somerville to make more healthy, convenient grocery options available.

“Somerville is not entirely a food desert,” said Mashael Majid, Community Planner at SCC.

However, communities where there are not close by, walkable options for fresh, healthy groceries, but which may or may not be food deserts, are referred to as “food-insecure.”

John Cater, who lives on Broadway, brought up the difficulty of reaching the nearest chain grocery store.

“I get everything I need in grocery stores and I think this is especially important for old people,” Cater said. He explained that most youths grab a soda or water in the nearby convenience stores. Somerville is also a community where there is a large amount of senior citizens and people with disabilities. It is not convenient for them to go shopping often.

Even though there is a Stop & Shop on McGrath Highway in East Somerville, there is not a more affordable grocery store in this area, such as Market Basket. Some people even need to take a taxi to go shopping at a cheaper grocery store.

“I can’t afford a cab,” Cater said. “I always walk back from the grocery store with a push cart. If I take a cab, it would cost the money that I’m supposed to spend on food.”

Lexi Sasanow, A Tufts Tisch Scholar and SCC Intern at SCC said that, because Somerville was partly a food desert, it was a very “food-insecure” community.

“The Star Market on Broadway has been vacant for five years, so it takes a long time for Winter Hill Street residents to walk to the nearest grocery, especially for older and disabled people,” said Sasanow. “One of the questions is that the lack of public transit in some areas makes food more inaccessible.”

There has been a long conversation between SCC and Somerville residents about effective public transportation. In the last SCC meeting in July, people suggested shuttle buses to grocery stores, which is now one of the proposals.

These ideas came from 27 participants, many of which were youth from Teen Empowerment and Groundwork Somerville who were engaged in SCC’s data collecting project this summer. They took a survey about how much time they need to get back and forth between their homes and grocery stores, what their purchasing motivations are and how they feel about those stores.

“The whole project came out of a community process by starting off with the Gilman Square Neighborhood Association and SCC’s Land Use Committee,” Majid said. “The sample size is small, but they definitely helped collect more dynamic data.”

Unlike many demographic data from U.S. Census, the information that SCC used to help them to create a community action plan is more current.

People who attended the SCC meeting also commented on the charts made with the survey data.

Rachael Plitch, Shape Up Somerville (SUS) Coordinator, thought these data were very helpful to people to grasp an understanding of food accessibility in Somerville. SUS launched Mobile Farmers Market in June 2011. The initiative is collaboration between Shape Up Somerville and many varied and significant partners, including Groundwork Somerville, The welcome Project, Somerville Housing Authority, and Enterprise Farm. It became very important to local residents when Star Market shut down.

Sasanow said that a potential next step is to talk to land owners, developers to implement practical solutions.

These surveys about food accessibility are actually applied to many other kinds of land use, Majid said. Since more and more small businesses are introduced to Somerville this year, making use of the limited areas effectively influences many people’s lives.

Kathleen O’Brien is one of the students from Tufts University who started the survey, saying that she was surprised to see that people’s purchasing motivation was price instead of convenience. One of the people at the meeting pointed out that people come from all over the area to buy all of their groceries because the Somerville Market Basket is one of the most affordable sites in the whole Boston metro area.

“We are hoping that there will be something central to the neighborhood to provide healthy food, like a food co-op or a community kitchen,” Majid said. “But we’ll have to further engage the neighborhood to come up with long-term sustainable solutions.”

 

 

5 Responses to “Somerville residents join SCC meeting, evaluate food access”

  1. A. Moore says:

    It is a big problem here on Winter Hill. People that can bareley walk are trying to get up to Walgreens to buy their daily food as it is too hard for them to get to the Stop and Shop on MeGrath. The thing in Somerville back in the 50′s we had stores all over the place and even though they were small they were affordable. To do this now is impossible as the real estate is just too much money for stores to make a living as it is wanted for development.This is what made it a real walkable city years ago as compared to now. Having small markets at regular prices is really the answer but I don’t see it happening here. But as more of the older generation is forced out of the city it will cease to be a problem. We lived in Magoun Square back then and we so called suermarkets there plus meat stores. Finast, A&P, Sam’s and Miller’s if I recalled them right just in that one square. Plus tons of small variety stores also and not overpriced like they have to today to just barely get by.

  2. jt says:

    How is East Somerville a ‘food dessert’ when Stop & Shop is in the heart of East Somerville? These committees and organizations look for problems where none exist.

  3. Wrong, jt says:

    wrong, jt. If you live on Temple/Jacques/Fountain/Glen/, and many, many more, S & S is quite a hike, esp. the return trip with groceries. Where should we shop? Star? also closed. The irony is that S & S caused Mom & Pop stores to close, leaving even fewer options. I went to meetings where Union bigshots got up and spoke about what a great thing this would be. We knew what would happen, but nobody would listen. The unions got their jobs, the city got money, and we all got the finger.

  4. jt says:

    I agree with you about Stop and Shop even being there. However, I consider the area of Temple/Jacques, etc., to be Winter Hill, not really East Somerville. So I don’t understand where they are coming from calling East Somerville a ‘food dessert’.

  5. Alexa Sasanow says:

    Hi all,
    My name is Alexa Sasanow, and I am a nintern at SCC. We were so pleased to have a reporter at our Land Use & Food Access workshop, and it was a really successful event. However, I was disappointed to see that there were a number of factual errors in the story (I was referred to as a “he” and I am female, for example), which I’d like to clarify:

    - The reporter attended our workshop on August 15, one in a series of events SCC has put together over the course of the summer addressing land use in a food access context – that is, how can we look at public, private, open, vacant and inhabited space in Somerville to make more healthy, convenient grocery options available? These are not private meetings of SCC members, board or staff, but rather are open to the public and often in collaboration with other community organizations.

    - The next two paragraphs of the story touch on the idea of food deserts. Somerville is not a food desert. A food desert is, as the reporter wrote, an area where there is not a grocery store within a 1.5 mile radius. Communities where there are not closeby, walkable options for fresh, healthy groceries – but which may or may not be food deserts – are referred to as “food-insecure.” A food island, however, is not a place with abundance of options, but rather a place which is food-insecure, but not on the geographic scale of food deserts. The article incorrectly states that there are no big chain groceries in East Somerville. There is, in fact, a Stop & Shop on McGrath Highway, near Assembly Square.This Stop & Shop is an important resource for this community, but it is not as affordable as, say, Market Basket.

    - The Somerville Mobile Farmers’ Market launched in June 2011. The initiative is a collaboration between Shape Up Somerville and many varied and significant partners including Groundwork Somerville, The Welcome Project, Somerville Housing Authority, and Enterprise Farm.

    - To meet with landowners or developers is one of many potential next steps, but only after we do further work with residents to figure out what is possible and what is necessary in our communities. Our first step is to make the data we collected this summer cohesive, legible and available, and to invite constituents to a series of further meetings in the fall. We want to hear more from residents about what they want, such as a food co-op (not a food court).

    I hope this clarifies some of the errors in the story, and that they can be corrected.

    Thanks!

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