Randolph College Study: Healthy Food Options Sparse in Downtown Lynchburg

Reporter: Lauren Compton l Videographer: Todd Densmore

Lynchburg, VA - There is a lot of growth in downtown Lynchburg, but a Randolph College study found the area is lagging behind in access to affordable, healthy food.

The term for this trend is called a "food desert," and it applies to urban areas where residents have limited access to nutritious foods. The study is part of a new class at Randolph College called 'The Economics of Food and Sustainability"

Randolph College Professor John Abell, and his economics class went on a journey to examine the food options in downtown Lynchburg. They found there are more convenience stores than grocery stores downtown, leaving residents with very limited choices.

"The convenience stores have really processed foods, and canned vegetables that don't have a lot of nutritional value," said Isabelle Dom, a student in the 'Economics of Food and Sustainability' class.

It's a problem that affects health in the area, and means many residents are paying more for food that's not very good for them.

"On average grocery stores are 50 to 90 percent cheaper, so convenience stores are much more expensive," said Lucas Brady, a student in the 'Economics of Food and Sustainability' class.

The study found a lot of residents do most of their shopping at convenience stores, because many can't afford to travel to grocery stores. Lynchburg resident Smitty Smith says his neighborhood is surrounded by four convenience stores.

"You have a lot of people who go grocery shopping in cabs, and then catch a cab to the store, and catch a cab to come back," said Smith.

More grocery stores isn't the only solution, the study found one way to change this trend is investing in places like the community market.

"The community market could become the go to place for good quality nutritional food, produced by local farmers," said Professor Abell.

Vice Mayor Ceasor Johnson says the Economic Development office is looking for ways to market downtown for a grocery store to come in.

"We are always looking for people who want to come in downtown and invest. If that can happen we'll be more than open to the options, said Vice Mayor Johnson.

Johnson says there are some obstacles to bringing any large store downtown, including space and parking.