USDA Labels Prince George's County "Food Desert" - NBC4 Washington

USDA Labels Prince George's County "Food Desert"



    Concern is growing in Prince George's County regarding the lack of places to buy fresh food. Federal officials have labeled the county a food desert. News4's Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins has the story. (Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013)

    Prince George's County has been labeled a "food desert" by the USDA, meaning its residents do not have sufficient access to groceries or fresh food.

    Potentially life-threatening diseases like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are disproportionately higher in the county.

    "Despite the fact that we have the highest concentration of African American wealth here in Prince George's County, we also have deep pockets of poverty," Brian Smedley, director of Place Matters, told News4.

    Place Matters is a national initiative studying how where you live impacts your health.

    "Even though we think about health from the individual behavior standpoint, it's really as much about the environment -- where we live, where we work, where we play," Smedley said.

    City and business leaders from around the country involved with Place Matters took a bus tour of the county to see what's working and what's not. They toured Eco City Farms in Bladensburg, where everything is maintained with recyclable materials.

    "The ingenuity of the people there to create from waste -- beauty and sustainability -- was very, very heartening," Place Matters participant Jamilah Peters-Muhammad said.

    But right down the street, the group saw clusters of fast food restaurants surrounded by carry-out restaurants -- with very few grocery stores.

    "When you look at zip codes, your zip code actually affects your overall health outcome more than your DNA," Peters-Muhammad said.

    Ray Smith has advanced diabetes which led to the complete loss of his eyesight. He participated in Place Matters, and said he now understands why the lack of fresh food near him contributed to his disease.

    "If I wanted to go to the store, there's no what you consider walkable places for me to go and that's what I'm finding as food deserts in Prince George's County," Smith said.

    Place Matters participants will make recommendations to the county about how they can improve the food desert situation.