Austin's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Austin, Texas | KVUE.com

City Council approves plan to improve food access

The Austin City Council approved a resolution during its meeting Thursday aimed at improving access to food for people living in 'food deserts.'

Dozens of people from across Central Texas gathered at Allen Center in Austin Thursday with one goal in mind: to end hunger.

Among the speakers at the Baylor University Texas Hunger Initiative Together at the Table event was Carmen Llanes Pulido, the Community Director of GAVA Dove Springs. GAVA is a resident-led group working to increase access to healthy food.

"When we talk about food access, is there a grocery store close to you? How far away is it? What are the barriers to you getting those fresh fruits and vegetables," explained Llanes Puldio.

Evita Cruz knows the dilemma all too well.

"In my corner stores, I cannot find anything to put in my fruit bowl," Cruz said, pointing to an empty fruit bowl on her dining room table.

Cruz lives in Dove Springs, an area with known food deserts and high rates of childhood obesity.

"Our children, they are going to eat what they see. As soon as they walk in the convenience store what do we see? We see alcohol, we see chips," she said.

Staff in the City of Austin's Office of Sustainability said there are three main criteria that designate a USDA-classified Food Desert. It's based on the distance to a full service grocery store, whether the population has vehicles to get to that store and whether the population is at or below the poverty line.

In July 2015, the Office of Sustainability made a map showing where Austin's full service grocery stores are located. Staff found the most food deserts are in Districts 1, 2 and 3, plus parts of 4.

"There are parts of Del Valle that are City of Austin and many of those families have to travel 10 to 15 miles to the closest grocery store," said Austin City Council Member Delia Garza, Ditsrict 2.

Garza sponsored a resolution to change that.

"The purpose of this is to get together, brain storm, think of ideas on how we can either get a full service grocery store there, public private partnerships," Garza said.

The resolution passed on a vote of 10-1 with Council Member Don Zimmerman voting against it.

Under the resolution, the city manager has until June 14, 2016 to present preliminary recommendations to improve food access to council. The resolution also makes food access a priority for the city's newly created Equity Office.