ENGLAND, Ark. – Finding food is a growing problem in the Natural State, with rural areas seeing a shortage of grocery stores selling fresh produce.
For those in England, Arkansas, their only grocery store closed its doors a week ago, leaving families with limited options and no word on a replacement.
Garrett Lenzen has lived in the town for four years and stops at his local Kroger every few weeks to stock up on groceries. He lives just 5 minutes away from the store.
“I really love the people here,” Lenzen said. “[and] this is kind of our main place to go.”
But his neighborhood grocery store closed for good on July 31st, with no announced replacement and no other grocer for miles.
England is now Arkansas’ newest food desert; an area where neighbors have limited access to affordable, healthy food and fresh produce. According to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, every county in the Natural State has food deserts. England’s nearly 3,000 residents are now the latest to experience the growing trend.
“This is the only grocery store in town, especially that has fresh produce,” Lenzen said while parked in the Kroger parking lot. “When it comes to healthier staples that people need, there’s not really another option.”
Other food choices in town are slim. Folks can choose between fast food, gas station grub, or convenience stores for everyday groceries and meal options. Seasonal farm stands between England and Little Rock offer select goods on certain days.
For Lenzen, the next best thing is more than 30 miles away – the next closes Kroger sitting on the border of North Little Rock and Sherwood. It takes a roundtrip of more than an hour to stock up on ingredients, not including shopping time or possible traffic.
Lenzen also says he now must carefully plan his meals out to make the trip worth it, including bringing coolers with him for refrigerated or frozen items and budgeting the cost of weeks of food in one go.
But not everyone in England has a car, and some seniors can’t take the journey. For them, the only options are those within walking distance.
Food deserts are a concern not just for the people of Central Arkansas, but for those across the state. According to the USDA, about 10% of 65,000 census tracks around the nation are considered food deserts, an issue that impacts 13.5 million people.
Kathy Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, has been studying food insecurity and food deserts in the state for years. She says the issue is a growing one, and that a lack of access to food effects more than just appetites. You can watch our full interview with her here.
To see how prevalent food deserts are in Arkansas and beyond, you can use the USDA’s interactive atlas here.