Under the Dome

State lawmakers get second lesson in food deserts

A state House study committee met for only the second time Monday afternoon to hear what is working across the state to increase access to healthy food in what are known as “food deserts.”

Food deserts are areas where residents have to travel some distance to find a variety of fresh, healthy foods. In urban areas, the generally accepted distance is one mile; in rural communities, it is 10 miles.

“We want to hear some of the success stories of private individuals trying to serve these food deserts,” said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Caldwell County Republican who co-chairs the committee.

The committee was set up in response to Kroger closing two stores in Southeast Raleigh. A Carlie C’s has since opened at Kroger's former location on New Bern Avenue, while the store on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard remains vacant.

Committee members heard from a variety of speakers, including Mack McLamb, president of Carlie C’s, which has about 16 stores from Fayetteville to Raleigh.

Starnes asked McLamb: “Why did you think you could make a profit when Kroger couldn’t?”

McLamb explained that he believed their independent grocery store chain better serves the customers in Southeast Raleigh and what the store needs to turn a profit is about 50 percent less than what Kroger required to be profitable. He also pointed out that the family-owned company doesn’t build new stores but rather moves into existing retail spaces.

Committee members also heard from officials about a program in Pitt County to get healthy food into corner stores, challenges facing farmers markets trying to accept food stamps and measures that could benefit educators trying to help those who receive food stamps to make healthier food choices.

The house study committee will meet next at 1 p.m. March 24 in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building in downtown Raleigh.