Under the Dome

NC House backs food desert program to put produce in corner stores

Ray Carroll, center, and William Bradford, left, both of Raleigh, get some help loading crates of milk onto the back of their truck from Riley Mart store manager Sam Sammour near Wendell. A proposed grant program would put fresh fruits and vegetables in corner stores located in “food deserts.”
Ray Carroll, center, and William Bradford, left, both of Raleigh, get some help loading crates of milk onto the back of their truck from Riley Mart store manager Sam Sammour near Wendell. A proposed grant program would put fresh fruits and vegetables in corner stores located in “food deserts.” clowenst@newsobserver.com

The House voted 67-49 Thursday to budget for a new program to put fresh produce in convenience stores.

The Healthy Food Small Retailer Fund would spend $1 million to put refrigerators full of fruits and vegetables in 6,000 convenience stores located in “food deserts” that don’t have easy access to grocery stores.

“Getting nutrient-rich foods to these people is critical in many communities – to be able to buy more than a honey bun and a Coke,” said the budget amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Yvonne Holley of Raleigh. “We have people in a city that have access to all the junk food in the world, and they can’t get nutrient-rich food.”

The program would use local farmers to supply produce to the stores. Funding for the program is contingent on a separate House bill becoming law; that bill hasn’t moved yet in the House or Senate.

The proposal drew criticism from several Republicans who said it would interfere in the free market. Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, said he doesn’t think the produce would sell and called it a “crazy idea.”

“If I go to the corner store, I want a honey bun and a Coke,” Speciale said. “Have you been to these corner stores that have the fruits? I wouldn’t eat them if you paid me – they’ve been sitting there for awhile.”

While one legislator described a similar program that’s had success in the Greenville area, Speciale said he’s been there and “seen the worst bananas and the worst fruits.”

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