In recent weeks Real Hartford polled* residents (not potential residents and not those who live elsewhere but work in the city) about their grocery shopping habits. While at it, we collected some demographic information. Here is what we found:
The overwhelming majority of residents responding to this question said that they never have difficulty obtaining healthy food. I was careful with the wording because some might have trouble buying fresh produce, but they are still able to get it with help of food stamps or Foodshare. The Grow Hartford CSA, for example, has a number of its shares reserved at a reduced rate for low-income families.
Of those who had difficulty obtaining healthy food, most said this was an issue only some of the time.
The reasons for that varied.
For those who responded with “other,” their reasons included taking personal responsibility (“bad planning”), number of people in household (“Since it’s mostly just me, I can’t buy produce at the grocery store because it doesn’t last long”), and seasonal deficiencies (“lack of organic downtown in winter”).
Cost was a significant factor, as expected.
Most people said they had employment, with a small percentage being students, retired, or unemployed. It is not uncommon for people to have a job (or several) and still have trouble covering basic necessities. National reports show 1 in 7 Americans now use food banks. Having a grocery store on every corner does nothing for those who make too much to qualify for government assistance, but not enough to select the healthier food options.
Even with cost, availability, and convenience being roadblocks for some people some of the time, the majority of people responding said they could feed themselves just fine.
So who was answering? Are they a representative sample of Hartford residents?
By this finding alone, the answer is no.
The homeownership rate in Hartford is only around 25 percent, yet a full two-thirds of those surveyed said they owned, not rented. Perhaps people bother to learn where grocery stores are located when they make a long term investment by purchasing a home?
Another theory about why people have difficulty in getting healthy food is that they are new to town, plain and simple. Like homeowners, residents who have managed to stay here for a few years or longer seem to have no complaints about general availability of food.
The smallest percentage of those responding have lived here for less than one year. Those responding “other” all staked claims to living in Hartford for much longer than five years, but did not qualify as lifelong residents. Some have lived here for decades after college. Others grew up here, moved away, and then returned. Perhaps there was less food elsewhere?
Over the years, some have claimed that the only reason they have not moved to Downtown is because of the lack of grocery store. But looking at these responses, it’s even more clear that such statements are not entirely honest. To find out how to make Downtown more livable, a fine first step would be for people who have no interest whatsoever in living there to not pretend as if they could be swayed.
What we did learn was that nobody who responded obtains his or her food from only one source. Of those who responded, almost 29 percent live in the West End, roughly 26% live in Downtown, and over 13% live in Frog Hollow. The remainder live in other neighborhoods; the very small number of people from Parkville (where Stop & Shop is located) responding would not have skewed the results.
So, where do we get our food?
There was a catch. Residents responding to this survey were asked not to include an establishment if they have only purchased takeout/to-go meals there.
Finally, residents were asked about the qualities of their ideal grocery store (whether or not such a store exists is another question). More than anything else, people want their food to be grown locally. They would also like it to be fresh. After that, they considered cost important, and then showed a preference for organic produce.
One person added that s/he would like there to be high fiber cereal. That may or may not have been a joke.
Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at which local stores and vendors fulfill these ideals and which fall short. Other criteria may be included as well, like if they have a web presence (update and useful), if they present barriers to those shopping there, what (if anything) they are famous for, efficiency, involvement in community, atmosphere, and if its location lends itself to completing several errands during one trip. With a shopping list in hand, I will compare a few of the grocery stores Hartford has to offer.
*Note: All polls are inaccurate representations of reality. They never represent a full range of diversity. They naturally exclude those who do not know about the poll. The most useful piece of information from this poll was learning that nobody relies entirely on one grocery store, not even ones that receive a lot of hype.*