There are dozens of communities in New Jersey where residents are struggling to be able to buy fresh, nutritious food.

Efforts are moving forward to eliminate what are known as “food deserts” in the Garden State.

Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, the prime sponsor of the Food Desert Elimination Act, said food deserts are geographic areas, usually urban or rural, that do not have nearby, easily accessible grocery stores or supermarkets that carry fresh fruits and vegetables.

People living in food deserts, if they don’t have their own car, are “forced to turn to fast food or corner stores that end up costing more and are not in the highest quality and highest nutrition," he said.

So how big a problem is this in the Garden State?

Greenwald said New Jersey has identified 41 food deserts, but there could be as many as 75.

He said the first food desert identified in a major population center was Camden, where there was a high infant mortality rate, a high rate of obesity among children and no nearby supermarkets.

His legislation, he said, “creates a tax credit with incentives to encourage supermarkets to locate in those urban areas and to bring that type of nutritional food to the residents of those areas.”

Under the measure, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, in consultation with the state Departments of Agriculture and of Community Affairs would designate the physical boundaries of food desert communities.

Greenwald noted for most New Jerseyans, getting nutritious food is simply a matter of putting the kids in the car and driving to the closest supermarket. But for many residents in food desert areas, they’re forced to take a bus with young children in tow, then after they reach their stop, walk upwards of a mile to the supermarket and buy food.

“In that situation, that family is not able to buy a weeks’ worth of groceries at that time. They buy enough to get by, they have to take this trip a number of times a week.”

He said frequently, because of bad weather or another reason, a food-desert family will wind up eating at a fast food restaurant because it’s the only close option available, and “that’s why you see the dietary problems that you see.”

The legislation has been passed by the Assembly and now awaits action in the state Senate.

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