Saturday, May 31, 2014

Did Greenways Perform a Minor Food Desert Victory in Knoxville?

Did the Knoxville Greenways Project perform a miracle in Lonsdale?

Intro: The First Lady educates us on the need for government to support big business, for the children.  Her plan is to give $400 million per year to supermarket chains, to open more supermarkets.

Now this is hard to find, the definition of a supermarket as used by the federal government.  The term is used all the time without informing the reader just how big a supermarket must be to be a supermarket:
Stores met the definition of a supermarket or large grocery store if  they reported at least $2 million in annual sales and contained all the major food departments  found in a traditional supermarket, including fresh produce, fresh meat and poultry, dairy, dry and packaged foods, and frozen foods.
Back in 2011, Metro Pulse wrote about Knoxville's food deserts.  They included this map, which is not linked back to the source, but they are honest folk so we can trust them:
Not a Drop to Eat: Twenty census tracts in the heart of Knoxville are considered food deserts by the federal government, meaning that the majority of the residents have limited income and limited access to grocery stores.
That map contains all 20 of the neighborhoods one would expect, plus a number of surprises.  The ones you would expect are Lonsdale, Beaumont, Mechanicsville, and other spots that have lower income households, government housing projects, and very few grocers.

Just over two years later, the Knoxville Food Policy Council published this map of 20 Knoxville Food Deserts.  Odd thing, they title it  Do You Live in One of Knox County’s 20 Food Deserts? but almost all of the food deserts are inside the city limits.  All of the city is inside of the county, but one would think the city should be mentioned too.

Part of the not-shaded-anymore area is Lonsdale (south portion), Beaumont, and Mechanicsville.  Of course, I was skeptical too so I checked the source, the USDA, and sure enough the maps match.  Knoxville still has 20 food deserts, but some of them moved out of areas served by supermarkets like Kings in Lonsdale:

Kings Market

1300 W Baxter Ave
Knoxville, TN 37921
I checked google maps for supermarkets in the area and Kings Market came up, along with a few others at the fringes of the area.  If there are others the people who do the licensing around here will know long before Google Maps reflects it and this could explain how Lonsdale and other long suffering communities are off the list.

However, other food deserts sprang up, like the one farthest west I examined in detail.  Here, let's count them together!

 Still 20 food deserts, just like in 2011.

Back to the miracle in Lonsdale, did Mayor Rogero's greenway projects solve the problem?  We won't know until the city government takes its collective victory lap.

If you are unfamiliar with who KnoxFood.Org (the Knoxville Food Policy Council) is, even after exploring their website, it is understandable.  They are the Knoxville-Knox County Metro Planning Commission.  They have all of the local information at hand to verify if the USDA food desert atlas is correct.  They get paid a lot of money, especially for this area, to put out information like this.  They appear to be the most modest government agency out there too, since "MPC" does not appear anyplace on their website.  They get a few comments on how awesome their website is, but you have to hunt around for where to comment too.  I still have not found where to leave a comment that will be posted, but "Steve S." and "Tim" did:
I wonder where they work?

The MPC is also the people in charge of zoning, and know at their fingertips if a licensed business is operating anywhere within the borders of Knox County and Knoxville City.  If a new crop of supermarkets has bloomed, they know it first.  If a supermarket tries to open in a food desert neighborhood, they know that first too.

So, now the food deserts have shifted from the poor neighborhoods to places where any grocer would love to operate.  I wonder what resources the MPC is going to throw at them for that?

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

More Food Desert Fabrications

The Knoxville MPC missed a few food deserts by not clicking on enough boxes.
While examining the latest food desert for video documentation, I discovered even more odd alarmist nonsense.  No, not from the federal government, but from our own Knoxville Metropolitan Planning Commission (archive from 5/29/2014).
Do You Live in One of Knox County’s 20 Food Deserts? 
Have you heard the term “food desert?” These are areas where access to healthy food is difficult to obtain because of location and income. In 2009, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began tracking food deserts across the nation. Individuals and families living in food deserts often have to drive long distances and/or depend on public transportation to get to a grocery store. There are urban and rural food deserts and there are different ways the USDA measures access to food, based on distance and vehicle access. 
If you had to walk to a grocery store to get your food supplies for the week, could you? If you relied on the bus for your weekly shopping trip, would that be a difficult and/or time consuming part of your week? If you had to drive 10 miles or more to access a grocery store, how often would you go? Would you purchase the more perishable fresh fruits and vegetables or would you opt for more canned or frozen items?
(Italics mine)

They show the last food desert I examined, the one that has a Trader Joe's, Super Target, Super Mercado, India Store, and Lucky Asian Market.
It also contains West Town Mall and is across the street from Food City.  Go to the MPC run KnoxFood.Org website and see for yourself.  No, it does not state overtly that the MPC runs the website, but when you email you get an out-of-office reply from, an I-don't-work-there-anymore email from and are told to contact

Anyway, let's focus on this bit of alarm:
If you had to walk to a grocery store to get your food supplies for the week, could you? If you relied on the bus for your weekly shopping trip, would that be a difficult and/or time consuming part of your week?
Would somebody from that organization like to tell me who needs to do that?  All anybody in that situation needs to do is call (865) 524-0319.  What is that number you ask?  It is the number to Knox County Community Action Committee Transit.  "Buried" on their website is this wee bit of information:
Provides limited transportation to people of all ages within Knox County who have no other means to get to medical appointments, shopping, employment, and other essential services. Sliding scale fares. Furnishes transportation on contract for the Office on Aging, Senior Nutrition Program, O’Connor Senior Center, and other nonprofit agencies.
Priority Is Given To:
  • Dialysis and Cancer Therapy
  • Health Department Clinic and Other Medical Treatment
  • Therapy for Severe Arthritis, Post-stroke or Other Trauma
  • Grocery, Drug Store Shopping and Other Essential Errands
  • Contracts which Increase Access to Community Resources and Promote Coordinated Use of Vehicles.


IF there is a charge for their 24/7 service at all, it is less that $3.00 per trip.  They will even drive you to work if you need it and you can buy a 20 trip pass for $40 if you don't qualify for a free ride.

Of all the organizations in the world, the Knoxville MPC should know that nobody in Knox County (including the part in the city) need go without a ride if they need one, especially to the grocery store!

Rather than shoving federal, State, and local funds at big businesses that want to be bigger, how about telling people about the services that are already available?

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Food Desert Spread Solution!

From the Tennessean to Metro Pulse, the consensus is clear: We need a Kroger every mile to eliminate food deserts in our time.  Someone call in the bulldozers and get those homes out of the way!

After Glenn Reynolds linked to my food desert post the other day, James Lileks discovered a food desert in his old Fargo neighborhood. It is at the airport.

Also, someone who goes by the handle of Tim H. at Ricochet took a look at Blount County, TN - The Mirages In Your Local Food Desert and discovered the golf course and surrounding neighborhood are in his food desert.  He also provided some nice technical data from the government on how they came up with their food desert nonsense criteria.
  • Low Income is a tract with either a poverty rate ≥20%, or a median family income <80% of the state or region’s.
  • Low Access is a tract in which either ≥500 people or 1/3 of the population live too far from a supermarket. Too far is different for urban and rural areas: >1 mi. for urban and >10 mi. for rural.
Here is how the USDA worded that access part:
  • at least 100 households are more than ½ mile from the nearest supermarket and have no access to a vehicle; or
  • at least 500 people or 33 percent of the population live more than 20 miles from the nearest supermarket, regardless of vehicle access.
Keep that low access definition in mind, because that is the thrust from the first lady and the publications that agree with her take on this issue.  I also had the fortune to see a documentary on supermarkets recently.  They differ from grocery stores not in variety of products, but in dollar volume of sales, which the USDA does not bother to mention in their criteria.  By any measure, they would be considered big businesses.  When I looked for the video all I found was endless videos on how to keep supermarkets from "ripping you off."

For another look at this "food desert" business I ran across a few interesting articles about it.  Not people looking into accuracy, or lack there of, but folks who are all on board to do something.  In each case, that something involves a lot of money, a healthy dose of complaining, and not much else.  It never involves expanding the job market.  A recent one from The Tennessean claims that poverty is reaching deeper into the suburbs, therefore suburbanites on "food stamps" (they have been replaced by SNAP and distributed on EBT cards, but okay) cannot find proper nutritious food.  Buried in the article is the real answer to that one:
Owner (of the J&B convenience store) Balban Mistry says he occasionally stocks bananas, but they often they go bad before consumers purchase them.
The article drones on about how some people without cars, and they were actually able to find a couple in the Rayon City community near Nashville without a car, are too far from Piggly Wiggly to walk.  Looks like that Cash for Clunkers stroke of bureaucratic brilliance had another unintended consequence.  Used cars are too expensive now for people who need them to buy groceries from bigger stores.

The Tennesseean has an interactive map for you to check if you live in a food desert and they say the source is the US Department of agriculture.  However, it does not look much like the USDA map I have been using:
Tennessean Food Desert Map
It is a good thing they urge everybody to check, because you don't need to be an Obama Phone user to live in a food desert.  My Knoxville subdivision is in the middle of one and you will be hard pressed to find a home here for less than $150,000, or one without at least two cars parked in front of the two car garage.

I found an article from 2011 about the food deserts in Knoxville's home grown version of The City Paper:  Metro Pulse - Knoxville's Food Deserts and a trip back in time to what the map looked like in 2011.
Not a Drop to Eat: Twenty census tracts in the heart of Knoxville are considered food deserts by the federal government, meaning that the majority of the residents have limited income and limited access to grocery stores.

From the article:
So what exactly is a food desert? It’s just as unhealthy as dessert, but it’s a lot less fun. The United States Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a census tract where the majority of the population is low-income and a large portion of that population lives at least a mile away from a supermarket. (In rural census tracts, that distance is 10 miles.)

A mile may not sound like a lot—and it’s not, if you own reliable transportation. But what if you don’t? Picture the number of trips you make just from your driveway to your house after a larger shopping expedition to Kroger. Now picture carrying all those bags a mile home. 
Oh, but there’s the bus, you say? Okay, picture loading up all those bags in a foldaway rolling cart and sitting outside on a June afternoon waiting for the bus to take you two miles—a bus that comes only once an hour, a bus that is highly unlikely to stop on your doorstep. Picture doing that at age 75.
The article then mentions a mythical $6 gallon of milk at a mythical convenience store.  The articles also mentions the poor not having vehicles, without a mention of the 2009 Cash for Clunkers program.  A scheme that limited their choice in cheap transportation more than any other event in  the 21st century.

Going back to the Metro Pulse map for a moment and comparing it with the current map by the USDA, one can see that the food deserts have sprawled out all over the city in just three years.
Current USDA food desert map
Both the Tennessean article and the Metro Pulse article tirelessly repeat the theme that poor people do not have transportation access enough to get to a good store, and in both of their maps the stores must be within one mile to count.

So where does that leave us to satisfy these people?  Apparently the government buses don't go to the right places and, as the Metro Pulse articles states, toting a carload of groceries on a government bus is a bit of a chore.  Apparently the Knoxville CAC service is not up to snuff for these newspapers, even though they offer door-to-door service from a little as fifty cents, to a max of $3.00 for anybody in need.

What is another alternative?  One would think that sticking a full service, healthy food oriented, co-op in the middle of a food desert would help, but it obviously doesn't.

Knoxville's mayor decided to enter the city in a food desert reduction competition, and Metro Pulse covered it:  Plowing Ahead: Knoxville Didn't Win Bloomberg Philanthropies' Contest Money. Is the 'Food Corridor' Dead?

Her idea was to have locals take to planting food in city owned empty lots and sell the fresh produce, presumably in the affected areas.  The city did not win the $5 million dollars, but the project was not scrapped.  The city is pouring taxpayer money and local grants into the project.

Now, check the definitions again and see if that is going to do anything to get a food desert off the map.  Even if Knoxville won $5 million dollars, it would have no effect at all.  Unless these 100-plus downtown farm stands count as at least a grocery store, or a super market, AND they are spaced so that every poor person in a census tract is within 1/2 mile of one, then the food desert stays.  If the food desert stays, so does the food desert alarm, as well as the demand to do something, with more and more of other people's money.

The only way to get every single needy resident within a one mile hike to a grocery store is build a grocery store at every two miles within the census tracts that claim high poverty density.  Actually, that only "solves" the problem for the original definition.  If you look at that last map, the orange areas are food deserts where the poor are .5 miles from a qualifying store.  The one farthest west has a Walmart Superstore, a Sam's club, an Asian grocery, and a Dollar General store.

Interesting too is how an "urban area" appears on these maps.  Square mile after square mile of single family homes in pricy subdivisions are considered "urban" and they become a food desert if there is not a Kroger connected by a sidewalk to them..

Apparently these people will not be satisfied until there is a Harris Teeter on every block.  Of course, there are other solutions, like gathering all of the poor into housing within 0.5 mi. of a grocery store.  The cities could give their surplus vehicle fleets to the poor.  Zoning laws could be eliminated, so anybody who wants to sell groceries from their living room can do it, but unless they move more produce than a Super Walmart, the food desert stays on the map.  Will they then demand trailer parks in every parking lot for the displaced residents?  Probably.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Friday, May 23, 2014

Funniest Keyword Search to Date

You can't make this up.  I got a hit from this keyword search today: "libertarians obsession with economics."  It is almost like searching for accountants obsession with arithmetic, or chemists obsession with elements.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Food Desert Update

Knoxville's oldest food co-op, the Three Rivers Market (1100 N Central St. Knoxville, TN 37917), is trapped in a USDA designated food desert.  A quite large desert at that.
USDA Food Desert Atlas with inset from Google Earth
Following up from an earlier post, it looks like the easiest way to find a food desert in Knoxville, TN, is look for places that sell wholesome food at a modest price.

This co-op has been at that location since 2009 and is owned by the collective, although it traces its roots back to the 1970s:
Throughout the next two decades, the KCFC continued to increase its selection and grow its business but it had two big problems. It was not structured as an authentic cooperative and its facility was outdated and unable to serve the whole community. This meant the business was not sustainable so, in 2005, the KCFC changed its membership structure from a dues-based club to an equity-based cooperative. This change in structure signaled a new era and the former KCFC became Three Rivers Market, a genuine customer-owned food co-op. In 2009 Three Rivers Market purchased land at 1100 N. Central Street, less than 1/2 a mile from the old store, and began work on our new store. We relocated in August of 2011 and in 2012 and 2013, the community voted Three Rivers Market its Best Health Food Store/Grocery and its Best Green Business.
UPDATE: Three Rivers Market responds on Facebook (very nicely I might add) -
Three Rivers Market is not only Knoxville's oldest food co-op, its the only consumer-owned food co-op in the State of Tennessee!
(I thought I mentioned that collective aspect too, but okay)
Census tracts qualify as food deserts if they meet low income and low access threshold. They qualify as "low-access communities" based on the determination that at least 500 persons and/or at least 33% of the census tract's population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. Our co-op is considered a small grocery store (not a large grocery store or supermarket), so the USDA, Treasury and HHS do not view us as having an impact on this designation. - Jacqueline Arthur, General Manager

Yes, I thought most of that qualification jazz was in the legend the USDA provided, and I screen captured, but more info is nice.

I responded with some info they might not have known from outside of their immediate vicinity:
Thank you! They don't count the West Knoxville Trader Joe's, Super Target, Super Walmart, or Sams Club either. Nearly all of Knoxville is designated as a food desert in one form or another. Timbercrest subdivision is hardly a low income community, but it is in there too!
Another way of looking at it is that Three Rivers Market makes the same impact, in the eyes of the USDA, as a Super Walmart and Sam's Club combined.  This image is a Knoxville, TN food desert anchored by just that combination:

We had two threads going, here is the other one:
Hi Steve Esposito. Yes! We are also in the middle of a redevelopment area and have always been located in Knoxville's federally-designated Empowerment Zone, a program which ended a few years ago. We are in the heart of Knoxville....the very best place to be! - Jacqueline Arthur, General Manager
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Carolla Media Blitz is ON!

Trigger Warning: Adam Carolla, Don Imus, and Glenn  Beck mentions follow.
Adam Carolla and his Batchelder fireplace

From just a couple of observations, it looks like an Adam Carolla media blitz is on.  I happen to be a big fan of The Aceman since his Loveline days.  Nowadays, something from his site is streamed on my computer nearly every day.

Don Imus, notsomuch.  Yesterday I was tired with my local morning radio stations and happened to catch him talking about Adam Carolla.  I figured Ace was back in the news for something like this, and I stopped to listen.  No news item was mentioned, but Imus waxed on a bit about how smart and funny Adam is.  And he is, at least in the opinion of his many fans, so there is no revelation there.  However, the article contains a reference to President Me: The America That's in My Head, his new book.  Maybe it was this Salon article, that Adam spoke about on yesterday's podcast.  At any rate, Imus didn't mention that article or he didn't bring it up while I was watching, he just spent a few minutes talking about Adam Carolla, on a show that doesn't talk about anything without a sponsor.

This morning on the Glenn Beck show, I caught him quoting a comedian to the effect of - "when is the LGBT community going to raise hell about the lack of Jewish roofers?" I know that is not exact, but those elements caught my attention and, sure enough, the segment was all about Adam Carolla.  Almost as if Bernard Mcguirk had sent Imus' script over the Beck's people and it was reworded, the repeated points were how smart and funny Adam is.  Beck added that Adam is a very good businessman too.  The Adam Carolla love lasted a full segment.

If Adam mentions those guys on his shows, I missed it.  He mentions Dennis Prager sometimes and is a guest on Prager's show too, so I'm not seeing any reciprocity action here.

I know, two data points are not evidence, but there are a lot more than two data points here.  We have two shows at opposite ends of the audience spectrum talking about the same thing, the same way, within 24 hours of each other.  As a listener to talk radio for most of my life (yea, I was that kid) I can say that when certain things come up on several shows in this way, it is part of an advertising campaign.

From years ago I recall the Dawn Dishwashing liquid claim of washing a zillion dishes being discussed on several shows in the same week.  I think they got Stern, Roe Conn, maybe even Loveline, and the Don and Mike show to talk to them about the claim.  All of those shows tried to come across as independently finding this claim as outrageous and having Dawn representatives on the phone for at least half an hour to talk about it.  Sounded like an advertising campaign that was outlined, if not completely scripted.

They all did something similar when Queer Eye for the Straight Guy made it onto cable television.  Every week, some element of the show was discussed for half an hour.  They didn't have show representatives on every week or anything, but when Roe Conn is describing his shaving style as "I can't just go with the grain, I have to go both ways" the day after Kyan Douglas was featured on Queer Eye giving detailed shaving instructions, and all of the other radio shows were talking about that episode too, one wonders.

So, let the book tour begin!  And good luck to Adam in his new movie Road Hard, which sounds a whole lot like Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian.  But hey, how many different ways can you do a documentary about hard working comedians traveling all over the country?

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Food Deserts of West Knoxville

Update: I forgot about the Trader Joe's #663 located in the center screen green blob.
UPDATE II: In that same green blob is Target store #151 that sells groceries too.
UPDATE III: Ebisu Asian Market (now called Lucky Asian Market) is also inside the green area.
UPDATE YET ANOTHER (IV): Mi Pueblo Super Mercado in Downtown West
UPDATE V: India Market in Downtown West
More on the Three Rivers Market food co-op here, along with the Super Walmart/Sam's food desert.

Stay tuned for the food desert video!

Seems that the First Lady is making a bunch of hay about "food deserts" in America, and has been for years.  I was wondering if there are any around where I live, and just exactly where they were.  This is what I found while checking the United States Department of Agriculture map just moments before this post:

Some interesting areas are, well, all of them.  In the center of the frame, the one that is orangish has a Super Walmart and a Sam's Club on the southeastern corner, along with a giant bus stop between them (stop #7).  In case you are unaware, the Walmart has a large grocery area with an incredible produce department.  Sams is in large part a food warehouse.  Right across the interstate from Walmart and Sams is the the Sunrise international supermarket.  Farther to the west is the Far East Asian Market.  The shaded area is predominantly office parks and such, with a decent number of apartment buildings too.

The green area is more interesting.  It meets the USDA's original definition of "food desert" and a large portion of the northeast portion is the West Town Mall complex (complete with a food court and artisan food sellers), directly across the street from a large Food City grocery store (#694).

But wait, it gets worse as you get closer to more stores and eateries.  Just take a look at what the shape of the rest of the city!
It turns out that we live right in the middle of one too, the next one east of the two mentioned earlier.  Notable destinations in this area are the Timbercrest subdivision, Pilot Oil headquarters, and the Bush Beans headquarters, along with numerous other businesses and single family homes.  There are a few apartment buildings in the area, and they are located on the edge closest to the Oriental Supermart, and the Knox Plaza Kroger supermarket.

If the federal government wants to be taken seriously, they really need to try harder.

Special thanks to Glenn Reynolds for mentioning this on his blog.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ