The number of Indianapolis residents living in food deserts is increasing. Transit is critical to slowing that increase, but only if we continue the recent improvements with the IndyGo Purple and Blue bus rapid transit lines.
Senate Bill 141 would create penalties for IndyGo if it fails to meet revenue requirements and, if it becomes law, those bus rapid transit lines likely won’t happen.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of a food desert often involves a low-income area that is more than a mile from a grocery store. The adults and children living in food deserts are left without the healthy options many individuals living in middle- and higher-income areas are used to. This lack of access often leads to health issues, including obesity and diabetes.
What’s more, thousands of Indianapolis residents are currently living in a transit food desert, a compounded struggle of living in a home located in a food desert and without a car or grocery store accessible by bus.
An IUPUI Polis Center SAVI study found that 208,000 Indianapolis residents – 22% of the city’s population – live in food deserts, and an estimated 10,500 households are without a car or grocery store easily accessible by bus.
All of this contributes to why I support the in-progress improvements to IndyGo’s system and why our organization, Growing Places Indy, is doubling down to increase food access.
We ensure our initiatives, farms and programs are all accessible by transit. The Indy Winter Farmers Market, held on Saturdays at the Circle City Industrial Complex, is on two bus lines. And we partner with IndyGo to provide Food in Transit, selling vegetables from our urban garden at the Julia M. Carson Transit Center six months a year.
This access complements our overall efforts to build a more just and equitable food system. At the Indy Winter Farmers Market, we also offer the Triple-Match SNAP Program. Made possible by donors and community partners, this program allows a person at the market who swipes their SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) card for $20 to receive an additional $20 of market tokens and $20 of Fresh Bucks checks – tripling their dollar. This year we’ve seen usage of SNAP double over last year.
Indianapolis has so many wonderful attributes. We cannot forget our neighbors who do not have safe and regular access to the healthy food options so many of us do. Without question, reliable transit is directly connected to accessing fresh and healthy food. It is critical that we not separate one from the other and continue to improve our city’s transit in order to ensure more of those attributes are available to everyone.
Victoria Beaty is the executive director of Growing Places Indy.