Poverty puts Chester into a food desert
December 23, 2010|By Alfred Lubrano, Inquirer Staff Writer
First graders (from left) E’myah Herring, Mya Nicholson, and Ja’Niyah… (see link)
One in an occasional series.
Eyeing a potato at Frederick Douglass Christian School in Chester one day in the fall, a first grader called it a “tomato.” Another said he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen one before.
“How do you spell ‘nasty?’ ” asked Ja’Niyah Van, 6, tasting a baked sweet potato for the first time.
No one can blame the pupils for not recognizing or appreciating fresh food. There isn’t a single supermarket in Chester. A person could travel end to end in the city of 30,000 people and find just two stores that sell potatoes or any other fresh foods.
These days, the students learn what produce looks like from Greener Partners, a Malvern nonprofit whose experts come in regularly to teach about seasonal and local foods. As a result, the children can now speak with their families about potatoes, arugula, fresh spinach, and the bounty of the earth.
What most of them can’t do is buy or eat any of the food.
Chester is part of the First Congressional District, the second-hungriest in the United States behind the Bronx and the poorest place in Pennsylvania, according to a national poll, one of the largest ever taken. The city is at the western edge of the oddly drawn district, which snakes east along the Delaware River into parts of Northeast Philadelphia.
Once a bustling center of U.S. shipbuilding, and renowned as the city where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to seminary, Chester lost industry and half its population in the years after World War II.
Without work, the city imploded. As in other postindustrial Pennsylvania cities, jobs disappeared while urban pathologies accrued.
When poverty increased, many businesses moved away, including supermarkets. Chester has become a so-called supermarket desert, Sahara-like in its dearth of Acmes, Genuardis, and ShopRites.
Such stores, generally 60,000 to 100,000 square feet, require a volume of traffic that can’t be generated in Chester, said James Turner, director of economic development for the Chester Economic Development Authority.
Instead, Chester has about 100 corner and convenience stores, takeout places, bars and grills, and one or two sit-down restaurants within its approximately five square miles, according to a survey by Marina Barnett and Chad Freed of Widener University in Chester. The investigators created a food map of the city to catalogue resources.