I planned to do a Diary entry on the Temple University Food Assessment of Norristown that was presented at the Council Meeting last week. But I quickly realized after reading through their 46-page report, that one Diary entry isn't going to do the project justice. And frankly, I don't want to see this particular subject skimmed over, then forgotten. It's something we all ought to start having a dialogue about.
Today, I'll start with their first topic: transportation. Where are the supermarkets, grocers, etc., and can Norristown residents get to them?
Temple found that 20% of our households (about 2300 of them) report having no vehicle. 45% report having one vehicle. The rest have 2 or more. They don't cite where the 20% without cars live. The report seems to assume they live in higher density neighborhoods, or that they're spread evenly throughout the population (meaning there'd be more in higher density neighborhoods). Yet one of the more reliably vehicle-less clusters of people I know are at Rittenhouse Apartments, in the lower density North End.
If you're shopping for a family, even if they all come along to help carry, getting the groceries home without a car is a bigger problem that wasn't really addressed. Temple mentioned public transportation. Ever try to lug 3 or 4 grocery bags onto a bus? Forget about buying a sack of potatoes or a watermelon or anything else heavy. Yet, at the same time, Temple concluded that we had access to fresh produce because of our many neighborhood grocers.
Before they opened, the elderly residents of Rittenhouse were walking down to Family Dollar and paying $4 or more for a container of ice cream. They had to rely on relatives or whoever to take them out of town for meats, cereals, mayo, etc.
The report cites Plymouth Produce as a major store, and I'd agree with them. Besides produce, they sell extra amenities like lunchmeat. Still, a family can't purchase all their dietary needs there.
The Thiftway on Dekalb is used by people who walk there, I agree. However, if it had to rely on those customers alone, it would go out of business. The parking lot is nearly always full. They and the other businesses in that little center would benefit by maybe 30% more parking spaces. This isn't only about making sure people who walk can get their groceries, it's about keeping Norristown businesses open and thriving, too, which means inviting customers from other parts of town if they can get there (and 80% have cars).
Temple also placed the Norristown Farmers' Market on their map as a major food source, at least equal to Plymouth Produce, also making me wonder if they checked the market out. It's only open one day a week, during hours when most Norristown residents are working. They have a VERY limited selection of food, and prices are often above what you'd pay in the stores. They aren't located in a residential area—in fact, Downtown is probably the worse location for resident access. I love the idea of a Farmers' Market, but let's relook at it. Put it in a central location—what about the sidewalk outside the Library, in the geographic center of town? Have it open on Saturdays. Get more farmers to come out so there's competition and therefore better pricing. Or find an indoor venue that would work and allow us to have the market in bad weather, and in spring and fall, when leafy and root veggies are at their very best.
Temple mentioned that organic food was hard to find in Norristown. They didn't seem to notice one thing that's very obvious to me—if you have a food allergy or health restriction, you MUST go outside of Norristown to do certain food shopping. Low-sodium options barely exist here. Residents who are lactose, gluten, casein or whatever-intolerant are probably not going to find the alternatives they need in Norristown. Even diabetics might have trouble finding low sugar options in our supermarkets.
So that's the first installment, what Temple had to say, and what I had to say about food shopping in Norristown. What does everyone else have to say?