Push is on to Dry up 'Food Deserts'

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(Pictured left-to-right: Carmel-based Telamon Corp. Vice President of Business Development Sunny Lu and American Heart Association Grassroots Director Naima Gardner) (Pictured left-to-right: Carmel-based Telamon Corp. Vice President of Business Development Sunny Lu and American Heart Association Grassroots Director Naima Gardner)

Leaders in the business and nonprofit sectors are weighing in on proposals in the General Assembly designed to address the issue of "food deserts." One measure, Senate Bill 277, would establish a state-supported healthy food initiative to provide loans and grants to businesses and organizations to offer fresh or unprocessed foods in underserved areas. A 2014 Walk Score study ranked Indianapolis worst in the country when it comes to access to food within a five minute walk. In an interview on Inside INdiana Business Television, the American Heart Association's Naima Gardner and Carmel-based Telamon Corp.'s Sunny Lu says food access is a concern for urban and communities alike.

Gardner is part of the nonprofit Indiana Healthy Food Access Coalition, which works to increase the availability of fresh and healthy foods throughout the state. She says SB 277 is based on a program launched in Pennsylvania and could be leveraged by the public and private sectors to gain wider community support. "We know that low-access areas are intrinsically tied to high chronic disease, higher rates of obesity, things like this, as well as economic issues -- depressed economies and higher unemployment rates.

Lu says healthy food is "the foundation of a healthy work force" and says efforts to increase access to better foods can help build and sustain the work forces of today and tomorrow. A program such as the one proposed by SB 277, Lu says, could essentially act as an "entrepreneurship toolkit" for businesses in areas of need.

Another proposal at the Statehouse, House Bill 160, would set up a healthy food financing fund and program under the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. The bill hasn't gotten much traction yet in the House Ways and Means Committee.

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