Michigan City, Purdue Extension officials to study “food desert” areas in Michigan City – What’s New LaPorte?

The Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City is partnering with Purdue Extension to cultivate ideas for tackling the “food desert” designation of areas in Michigan City.

The Purdue Extension team is leading a study to collect and analyze data and community input that will lead to enhancing food access for community members in these affected areas, such as food co-ops or grocery stores. A food desert designation indicates these areas have relatively high poverty rates and low accessibility to resources. The east and west sides of the city have been designated food deserts.

“We are grateful for our partners on this project, which is necessary to identify solutions that will best address the food access issue. Horizon, Centier and Franciscan Alliance are all helping support this study,” said EDCMC Executive Director Clarence L. Hulse. “The study will utilize community meetings, surveys and data breakdowns to really dig deep to identify issues and possible solutions for bringing food to the table of those most in need.”

A recent virtual kick-off meeting outlined the initial steps and connected members of the task force, including Michigan City Council President Michael Mack and Fifth Ward Councilperson Tracie Tillman.

“This initiative started a long time ago and it is amazing how far we have already gone,” Mack said. “We are excited to hear the results, and the community will be happy to see that a team of knowledgeable individuals are working on this study.”

“These steps are what we need to take to inform evidence-based strategies,” said Dr. Michael Wilcox, Purdue Extension’s Assistant Director and Program Leader for Community Development. “We want this to be community driven and a community-focused effort.”

The Purdue Extension team will assist with putting together the survey that will go out to those in the food desert-designated areas to gather input. Beyond the surveys, focus groups will be put together later in the year. Tours of areas that have worked to tackle food desert designations are also down the road.

“We are seeking recommendations on what the community wants to see. We want a broad array of the community to take part in the survey and focus groups and offer input,” said Kara Salazar of Purdue Extension.

Wilcox expects to have strategies and the report ready by the end of 2021 but is keeping an eye on COVID’s impact.

Hulse said community members should keep an eye out for the survey link, which will be shared through various platforms.

“We will really need our residents to step up and share their insights – that is the only way we will really be able to address this issue,” he said. “A lack of access to healthy food can really have a ripple effect in these communities, and we hope to find ways to resolve these additional issues when they come to the forefront.”