Executive Summary

·         The purpose of this study is to understand more about what the term “food desert” means and to identify the specific problems residents of Lincoln Park/West End face in getting access to healthy food. The goal of this study is to help start a conversation about some possible steps to take to increase the level of food security in the neighborhood.

·         The USDA defines a food desert as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store” (USDA, 2009). While many ”food desert” communities have fast food restaurants and small convenience stores, they often lack full-service grocery stores that stock a range of healthy food options. In addition, many residents of these communities do not have adequate transportation and, therefore, lack the ability to shop at grocery stores in adjacent communities. There is no full-service grocery store in the Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood of Duluth. This is a problem because a lack of access to grocery stores is associated with higher rates of obesity and diabetes as people substitute available food for healthy food.

·         Our survey results indicate that Lincoln Park/West End has a complex and innovative food provisioning system. Residents purchase groceries at the West Duluth Super One, but also travel to grocery outlets throughout the Twin Ports area. They order food from food buying clubs and utilize a variety of federal government programs that provide food. Residents also hunt, fish and garden to provide themselves with the types of food they wish to consume.

·         A small but significant portion of the Lincoln Park/West End population (10-15%) experience significant barriers to accessing food. They overpay for food at local convenience stores and, generally, have a difficult time finding the food that they and their families need. In addition, a large number of Lincoln Park/West End community members use “emergency” food shelves to supplement their family’s food supply.

·         Convenience stores in Lincoln Park/West End charge more for groceries and have less of a selection, especially of fresh fruits and vegetables, than grocery stores in greater Duluth. While small convenience-type stores can play a strong, positive role in provisioning the local community, they are not playing this constructive role now in Duluth’s Lincoln Park/West End.

·         Many survey respondents reported a desire for a local grocery store that could play an important role in how they shop for groceries. For example, a small store could be a place where residents could do all of their grocery shopping or could stand in as a place to make quick, convenient purchases to supplement larger shopping outings at full-service grocery stores.

·         Market analysis indicates that because a grocery store does not currently exist in Duluth’s Lincoln Park/West End, the community has a “leakage” factor of about $5.3 million, meaning that residents are spending those dollars at stores outside of their community’s trade area. It is not likely that a grocery store would be able to capture all of the estimated $5.3 million, but would be able to attract a good portion of those dollars if the store was an appropriate scale.

·         A variety of obtainable options could solve the problems faced by people living in food deserts. For example, public and private entities could work in partnership to help either a large grocery store or a smaller convenience store operate profitably in the community. Another option is to increase transit options to stores outside of the neighborhood, either by increasing access to taxicabs or altering existing bus lines. Finally, several existing organizations are currently exploring ways to develop sustainable food hubs that could dramatically improve access to fresh and healthy vegetables.