Food deserts aren't just an inner-city problem. A CBC I-Team investigation has found that limited access to healthy foods can also be a daily concern for many residents of Winnipeg's suburban neighbourhoods.
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An analysis of the store locations of major grocers within Winnipeg's neighbourhoods revealed several areas beyond the city's core where mobility-challenged residents must overcome significant distances to stock their pantries.
Groups that study food security generally consider one kilometre as being on the outer limits of what is considered accessible for all residents. The map below illustrates a one-kilometre buffer zone around each grocery-store used in the analysis. The highlighted green areas outside of these zones are examples of neighbourhoods that are considered to have a lesser degree of access.
The above map highlights the size of food deserts in neighbourhoods such as Waverley West, Island Lakes and Mynarski, and also in Westdale.
Raheem Mohammed lives in a Manitoba Housing complex in Charleswood, another zone without a supermarket.
Mohammed has limited mobility and navigates the streets with a walker, as a result of a spinal fusion and multiple hip surgeries.
He used to take a bus to an Extra Foods in the Park West Shopping Centre on Roblin, but it closed its doors this past summer to undergo renovations. Loblaws expects the store to reopen later this month under the No Frills banner.
"I took a bus down there one time and I found out the hard way that it's closed," said Mohammed, who now buses to the grocery store in Tuxedo Village.
"Because of my disability, sometimes I have to make two or three trips on the bus."
Occasionally, Mohammed will bite the bullet and take money out of his food budget to pay for cabs and someone to help him.
"There's a guy in the building, I just give him $20 to go with me to help get everything in the cab and help me get everything upstairs to my suite," he said.
Fortunately for Mohammed, the nearest food bank, at St. Mary's Anglican Church, is just over half a kilometre away. Despite that, it takes Mohammed a good 20 minutes to walk there.
"Depending if the sidewalk is clear going home," he said. "I stop and rest a couple of times — about 25 minutes."
'Needs in every end of the city'
About 40 neatly numbered white crates line the tables in St. Mary's parish hall. A group of volunteers meet here once every two weeks to help distribute Winnipeg Harvest food hampers.
Susan Brown says the food bank started two years ago, when her fellow parishioners learned how great the need was in the neighbourhood.
"There was a need in this area for a place that people can easily access by walking as opposed to having to travel too far to get to a food bank," Brown said.
Many of the clients she sees have mobility issues.
"It's expensive to use cabs and sometimes really burdensome to have to use the bus system because a lot of people that were using the bus have to transfer a couple of times," she said, "and when you're carrying a heavy load of groceries, it's a lot of work."
Brown believes many in Winnipeg aren't aware of how many people are stranded in food deserts outside the city core.
"We do tend to look at certain pockets of the city that are in more need than others," she said.
"I think that's a big misconception that we need to get rid of; in order to help people is to say that there are needs in every end of the city."
Food deserts by design
In Waverley West, a massive expanse of suburbia is popping up in an area still dotted by the occasional silo. Large houses with two-car garages perch along winding boulevards. The area boasts walking and biking trails and quiet residential living.
Currently, the 12-square-kilometre neighbourhood has no major grocery stores within its boundaries, which according to city reports, are expected to eventually house 40,000 residents.
However, construction of a new supermarket in the northernmost part of the area is currently underway with the expected opening in late 2016 of a Save-on-Foods store — part of a B.C. chain owned by Overwaitea Food Group.
Urban studies researcher Robert Galston says neighbourhoods like Bridgwater could exclude many residents as they age.
"This neighbourhood all around us was built for a certain type of demographic: a middle-class family person or a person with a car, or the means for a car," he said.
Galston fears the design could work against it as the neighbourhood ages, creating an even worse food desert than the current one in the heart of the city.
For one, its winding roads aren't as easy for transit to navigate as a grid pattern. As well, there's nowhere to walk to buy simple staples such as a litre of milk.
"If this neighbourhood were to decline or be a lower-income area, it would be even more challenging and probably more of a severe food desert," he said.
"With an inner city, you still do have those corner stores. They may not be the solution to a food desert problem, obviously, but with a neighbourhood like this, you don't have even poor options."
Stores 'non-stop packed,' says councillor
South Winnipeg — St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes knows there aren't enough grocery stores in her ward. She says that every time she shops, "It's packed, it's non-stop packed."
Recently she tweeted pictures of signage for a new Sobeys store under construction at the corner of Pembina Highway and Killarney Avenue in the Fort Richmond area.
Lukes said that simple tweet elicited an unexpected reaction.
"I was just thrilled." she said. "I was astounded at the number of hits and retweets and retweets that I got."
Lukes said she has been keeping a close eye on the rapidly growing developments in the southwestern part of the city.
"There are some flaws in the design — I'll admit I've discovered a few in the last year — but there's still time, I think, to change some of them," she said.
The councillor added that she's confident that as the development expands and ages, it will meet the demands of an aging community, both in terms of access to grocery stores and access to transit to get people there.
"I think there's a lot of opportunity to make sure that it develops so that people will be able to have access," she said.
Back in Charleswood, Raheem Mohammed's neighbourhood is all grown up. He has become used to grocery trips taking up much of his time. He has no fast and easy solutions.
"I guess move closer to a grocery store, but then I can't afford rent downtown," he said. "That's why I live in housing, right?"
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