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Grocery Store Research, Assessment Aims for Proactive Policy

food deserts Unpacking Food Deserts: “Grocery stores are an essential part of our communities, providing access to food, medicine, jobs, household items and banking services.” 

Bobby Jo (B.J.) Fletcher, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor with the Maxine Goodman Levin School of Urban Affairs, has served as a co-author on “Cuyahoga County Grocery Store Assessment, 2023.”

Developed in collaboration with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, and the Cleveland Department of Public Health, the assessment was designed to help public sector entities and neighborhood leaders to better understand the grocery store landscape, learn from implementation efforts, and develop proactive policy solutions.

The assessment finds there are 223 small, mid and large-scale grocery stores and 11,000 grocery workers in Cuyahoga County, and about 14% (178,000) of county residents are lower-income AND lack a grocery store in their neighborhood – what is commonly characterized as a food desert.

According to Dr. Fletcher’s report, “High profile grocery store closures in working class neighborhoods have galvanized community efforts and political will to address grocery store gaps – albeit in a reactive manner. Grocery stores are an essential part of our communities, providing access to food, medicine, jobs, household items and banking services.” 

Dr. Fletcher is a visiting assistant professor in the Levin College of Urban Affairs. His research interests focus on public policy, food policy, and comparative policy—in particular, on food security and poverty both in the United States and internationally.

His research also focuses on socially vulnerable populations in the urban context around issues related to social policy and has an interest in public administration ethics. He takes a phenomenological approach to understanding lived experiences around issues that relate to his research areas. He has also done work on emergency management and food security.

His work has appeared in Emerging Voices in Natural Hazards Research and Food Policy and Politics.

Food Deserts Long for a Lasting Oasis

Food deserts are “geographic areas where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods—especially fresh fruits and vegetables,” according to a dissertation on the subject released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2021. 

“Disproportionately found in high poverty areas, food deserts create extra, everyday hurdles that can make it harder for kids, families and communities to grow healthy and strong.”

Families living in these locations are also less likely to own a vehicle.

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