Data from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences reveals a high demand for food support services like food stamps and school lunch programs. Sixty-four percent of Trenton School District students (pre-k to 12) are eligible for free (55%) and reduced (9%) lunch. Compared to Mercer County’s and New Jersey’s rates of 24% and 28% respectively, Trenton’s situation is deemed a “severe need” by the State of New Jersey.
The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters, published by The Food Trust and PolicyLink in 2010, concluded that access to healthy food is a challenge for Americans, especially those who live in low-income and urban areas like Trenton. According to a 2009 study by the US Dept. of Agriculture, 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home. And, a recent multistate study found that 8% of African Americans live in a tract with a supermarket, compared to 31% of whites. In addition, nationally, low-income zip codes have 30% more corner stores and fast food restaurants than middle-income zip codes. These establishments mainly sell cheap, high-fat, high-sugar and processed foods.
Statistics in Trenton exemplify these findings. Trenton has only one supermarket located within the city to support a population of more than 80,000 people. Trenton residents, due to lack of transportation or income, are forced to shop at corner and convenience stores, which are found in abundance throughout the city. Healthy food is hard to find in Trenton, especially for its poorest residents.
Because of the lack of healthy food access, Trenton residents face health challenges related to healthy food consumption. The growing rate of obesity has reached epidemic proportions in New Jersey, especially in low-income communities like Trenton. A study conducted by Rutgers’s Center for State Health Policy, found that Trenton ranked first among New Jersey cities with the most overweight, obese or very obese children, ages 3 to 19, at 43.7%.
Although most people are now aware of the health risks associated with poor diet, many people live in communities where improving nutrition is difficult. Low-income households especially lack the resources to pay higher prices for fresh, healthy food or such food may simply not be available in their communities. By participating in Isles’ Urban Agriculture for Trenton, low-income families are able to stretch food budgets, obtain fresh, nutritious organic produce, and learn and develop habits of healthy food consumption.
Since the organization’s inception in 1981, Isles has provided technical and organizational support for Trenton residents to transform neglected parcels of urban land into gardens that address hunger relief, food production and nutrition education, as well as urban beautification and open space preservation throughout the city of Trenton. Today, Isles supports community and school gardens by providing technical assistance and education, raised bed materials, seeds and plants, volunteer assistance, and access to tools and equipment.