Austin program aims to provide more healthy food options at local corner stores

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Your local gas station could be your next stop for fresh produce. The city of Austin is working to reach neighborhoods where healthy food is hard to find by partnering with local business owners.

The Austin Economic Development Department is working with the Public Health Department to expand the city’s Healthy Corner Store program. On Tuesday, city officials are holding a free virtual briefing session for business owners wishing to sign up for the program.

The program helps store owners incorporate healthy food into their stores. Things like fresh produce, canned fruits and vegetables, and even some prepared healthy meals.

“Healthy foods are really important to a healthy quality of life, put simply,” said Carol Fraser, the program coordinator for the Food Systems Economic Development Program.

This time around, the program is targeting the city’s eastern crescent, which extends from the northeast side of the city to Interstate 35 all the way to southeast Austin.

Source: City of Austin

“Many of the zip codes in the city’s eastern crescent do not have a full-service grocery store and a limited number of grocery stores selling healthy products,” Fraser said.

Data from a 2018 city report shows that Austin’s food insecurity rate is 16%, just 2% above the national average. The east side of the city is hardest hit.

Source: City of Austin

The 2018 study shows that areas highlighted in red have the most obstacles, such as the limited availability of healthy food, lower incomes and fewer mobility options.

“We are definitely interested in improving access to healthy food and promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Fraser.

Interested entrepreneurs have until the end of October to register for the program. Those who enroll are asked to commit to the program for at least a year. City officials said they would subsidize healthy food costs in half. Fraser also said they have funding to provide business owners with refrigeration units and display cases to help their business promote healthy food options.

The virtual information session on Tuesday starts at 3 p.m. Another briefing is planned for Monday, October 5th.

Restaurants and similar businesses can join if they are currently selling or want to sell fresh produce and healthy produce directly to customers.

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