Ottawa

Seeking solutions to West Centretown's 'food desert'

Ottawa's West Centretown neighbourhood is a "food desert" whose residents need easier access to essential groceries, according to a new study.  

Community’s last full-service grocery store closed in 2006

Residents of West Centretown describe lack of nearby grocery stores

12 months ago
Duration 1:16
Several residents say the neighbourhood, which includes Chinatown, Little Italy and LeBreton Flats, has few options for buying affordable fresh food. 1:16

Ottawa's West Centretown neighbourhood is a "food desert" whose residents need easier access to essential groceries, according to a new study.  

Emilie Hayes, community engagement manager for Somerset West Community Health Centre, which produced the study, said families in the neighbourhood, which includes Chinatown, Little Italy, Rochester Heights and LeBreton Flats, have few options to buy affordable fresh food.

It would be really nice to have something that's closer to here that serves all of our needs.- Dale Marshall, West Centretown resident

She said the area's sole full-service grocery store closed in 2006, leaving residents with only smaller stores to fill their pantries.

"They're really looking for something that is more consistent, where they can get the food that they need, when they need it," Hayes told CBC Radio's All In A Day. "As opposed to having to wait each month or having to rely on programs and services that are just really trying to fill those gaps."

Driving not always an option

According to the study, West Centretown is considered a low-income area where nearly one-quarter of the housing is subsidized and many residents rely on public transportation to get around.

"It's much more difficult for [them] to hop in a car ... to go get all of their groceries," Hayes said. "And so having something close by in the neighbourhood that's affordable, it's really important for them."

The study proposes a few solutions. 

While Hayes said her organization would eventually like to see a new grocery store open in the community, that remains a long-term goal. In the interim, the community health centre is looking at other options including "food kiosks," Hayes said.

"Whether that's a vending machine [or] an aisle in a neighbourhood store where we'll be able to provide fresh produce, dairy, breads and other kinds of basic staples."

Many West Centretown residents lack their own vehicle, so must walk or take public transit to other neighbourhoods to pick up groceries. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada )

Centretown West resident Dale Marshall said whether he goes east to Centretown or west to Hintonburg for his groceries, it's a 15-minute walk.

"I've definitely heard from other neighbours, other friends that live in the area, who all talk about the fact that we live in a food desert," Marshall said. "It would be really nice to have something that's closer to here that serves all of our needs."

Hayes said it's also important for people in the area to have access to options that are culturally appropriate. 

According to the report, West Centretown is ethnically and culturally diverse. More than 50 per cent of its population are immigrants, while eight per cent are classified as refugees.

"What we've learned is how important culturally appropriate food is to one's health and well-being," she said.

With files from CBC's Joseph Tunney and All In A Day

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