Your View: There’s a food desert in your backyard.

Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it to [email protected].

Imagine growing up in a place where you have to depend on convenience stores, packaged food, and filthy grocery stores to eat. The closest thing to fresh veggies and fruit are in a can. Your community’s highest cause of death is cancer and heart disease, and the average teenager is obese. There is fried, overly seasoned, processed fast food on every corner, but there are only two full-service grocery stores in a community of about 85,000 people.

That nightmare I just described is reality for the community of Liberty City, only a couple miles from neighborhoods with too many farmer’s markets and Whole Foods to count. We are the definition of a “food desert.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines it as a part of the country devoid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.

I grew up in a food desert, but I didn’t know how unhealthy I was until I left for college at Florida A & M University. We in Liberty City are used to eating this way because that is all we have access to.

I believe that these healthier food chains don’t exist in these areas because they most likely don’t desire to service that demographic, they may be afraid because there is usually a very high crime rate in food deserts, and they may believe that the residents may not be interested in their products.

In a community like Liberty City, many of the residents lack the tools to access healthier options even if they are simply in the community next door. Many depend on public transportation to get around the city and don’t know where to find healthier options, even if they are able to get around. Many homes are led by single parents working more than one job to make ends meet, and they have no choice but to settle for what is readily available.

Maybe it sounds silly to be talking about healthy food with so many other issues facing Liberty City. But the lack of fresh and healthy food is slowly killing us. One of the leading causes of death among Blacks and Latinos (the typical occupants of food deserts) are heart disease and cancer, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention — but healthy eating can decrease your risk, especially with heart disease.

Pennsylvania was the first place to try to solve this problem. In 2004 they launched their Fresh Food Financing Initiative, in which they provided existing small grocers with finances to expand so that they can provide healthier options, also provided grassroots organizations funding so that they can also help their food deserts gain access to healthy food.  It was so successful that it caught the attention of the federal government. In 2010, the Obama Administration announced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), which “brings grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities across America.”

Unfortunately, this great opportunity has not made it to all food deserts yet. A lot still has to be done on the state level in Florida before this great effort makes it to the communities that need it the most. Although the state approved some necessary steps in the last legislative session, it is still debating how much money to allocate to this initiative and has tried to block smaller organizations from accessing the funds.

However, in 2014 The American Heart Association took the lead to ensure that the food deserts in Florida have access to fresh food by launching Healthy Food Financing. The program has lobbied the local and state governments, held forums with community members, and built relationships with local businesses.  Thankfully, The American Heart Association is dedicated to advocating for a robust healthy food policy in Florida until the job is done.

I am excited about this because I am not only a resident of a food desert, but a victim. I have suffered from obesity and have lost friends, classmates, and family members to heart failure and diabetes.

I can remember a few years ago, I was shocked to find out that my good friend had passed away from a massive heart attack. She was only 28 years old and she and I were the same height, weight, and from the same community. I looked into the mirror with tears in my eyes and thought to myself that, “This could have been me, walking through my neighborhood and dying from a massive heart attack because I was uneducated on how to properly take care of myself.”

I took it upon myself to take my life back. But I ran into another problem: I was unable to find healthy options. I had to travel at least 6 to 10 miles outside of my community to find the healthy options I needed. I am fortunately financially able to travel to the stores and markets outside of my community to get what I need to eat healthy.

But that was not the case of my good friend. She didn’t have reliable transportation and she did not have the money to afford to eat healthy, so she was left to choose from the mess. There are many in my community in the same situation.

For the healthier options promised by the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to reach our community, we need everyone’s help.

Whether you live in or outside a food desert, take five minutes out of your day and contact your local and state political figures and let them know that this something that you would like to see locally and how much it is needed. Because that will help them make a better decision on how much they will allot to this great cause.

Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it here.