Lawmakers Increase Residents’ Access to Fresh Produce

Low income communities across the state will soon notice an increase in healthier marketplaces. Senate Bill 852 unanimously passed in the Senate Agricultural Committee.

“This bill will improve access to fresh produce, create health benefits that can lead to decreased Medicaid costs, creates jobs and expands markets for Florida farmers,” said Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando).

Siplin recently sponsored a Healthy Foods Retail bill, aimed at increasing access to affordable healthy foods in underprivileged communities. The bill is slated to fund new construction of grocery stores, while incorporating distribution outlets that enable food retailers to obtain fresh produce. Existing stores will receive renovations to improve the quality of fresh produce. Residents say they’re pleased with the Senators decision.

“I think this will be a great addition to our community,” said Margret Mathis, a local assisted living resident. “Majority of the fresh produce markets aren’t anywhere nearby, so we’d definitely benefit from having one a little closer.”

The healthy food bill was presented to Siplin by members of the Junior League of Greater Orlando, who have 60 years of experience serving the Orlando area through community education and charity programs.

“There is a great need in Florida to bring healthy food into food deserts,” said Katherine Martin of the Junior League of Greater Orlando.

Martin describes “food deserts” as areas where healthy food is unavailable and residents have limited access to foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Healthy food access just in schools is not enough,” Martin explains.

Even with a unanimous decision, some Florida senators are questioning if the program will actually have a significant difference.

Sen. Alan Hays (R) and Sen. David Simmons (R) both voted in favor of the bill, however, they are concerned about the program’s future.

“There is no money to put feet on this program,” says Hays. “The reality is that the state of Florida is screaming for cash.”

Both senators say an increase in available resources doesn’t mean people will begin consuming healthier foods.

“If the amenities are there, we will use them,” said Mathis. “I’m just excited to witness a positive change in the lower-income areas.”

“If the amenities are there, we will use them,” said Mathis. “I’m just excited to witness a positive change in the lower-income areas.”

The Healthy Foods Retail bill was filed in November 2011, and is expected to be effective in July. According to a Florida Senate press release, Sen. Siplin’s bill will next be presented within the Senate Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations.