KINGMAN — Mohave County and state officials met Tuesday to discuss ways to provide better access to healthier food for low-income families.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture held a workshop on a variety of food-related issues. Arizona is the third largest agriculture producer in the country.
AZDA Director Mark Killian told the audience that his department is trying to get healthy foods to more people, especially in rural counties. Workshops are being held throughout the state to come up with ideas and solutions.
Killian said studies show that test scores for inter-city children have gone up 42 percent if they have access to vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods. He said he has heard of children going door to door on weekends asking for food because their families can’t afford it.
Food security is defined as households that have continuous access to healthy food like milk, cheese and fresh vegetables. Apache County is the third worst county in the country for food insecurity. The national average is 12.3 percent of households living in food insecurity. In Arizona, 14.6 percent of the households are in food insecurity; 19.2 percent of Mohave County households live with food insecurity.
Killian suggested community gardens, school gardens, farmers markets, food co-ops and home gardens as ways to get access to healthy foods. Residents with a home garden can donate excess vegetables to a food bank.
Another goal is to get gas marts or convenience stores to sell healthy foods instead of junk food. Many residents in rural areas have to drive many miles to get to a grocery store, Killian said.
Convenience stores often sell junk food that leads to obesity and diabetes. Eating healthy foods like vegetables lowers the obesity rate and reduces the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other diseases.
Killian said there is a disconnect with people about how food makes it way to a grocery store. Of the 40,000 items in an average grocery store, about a third of the people think that the food is made at the store. He also said one woman didn’t believe eggs came from chickens. Others who pass by his Mesa ranch mistook his Brahman bull for a goat.
Agriculture accounts for 168,000 jobs in Arizona, adding $23.3 billion to the state’s economy. Vegetables and fruits grown in Arizona are exported to 70 countries. Mohave County is home to cotton, alfalfa, wheat, cattle, pecans and grapes for the wine industry, AZDA legislative policy coordinator Sharma Torrens said.
Tiera Morrison, program coordinator for the Mohave County Health Department, said about a quarter of Mohave County residents live more than five miles from a grocery store. One solution may be a mobile market, a truck that can deliver vegetables to rural communities, but finding funding could be difficult. Grants could be one solution.
Morrison also said people’s behavior has to change, including introducing children to vegetables at a school garden. She described a food desert as not having access to healthy food. More than 2.3 million Americans live in a food desert.