Fighting 'food deserts'

Many small town North Dakotans don't have easy access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other foods because of what are called "food deserts."

Rural grocery stores are closing at an alarming rate, and legislators are expressing concern.

It's becoming a growing issue, and the Capitol has taken notice. Small towns are losing their only grocery stores.

When the State Legislature first started its study on food deserts last spring, 15 percent of rural grocery stores had closed over a five year span. Now, it's 20 percent, according to state data. Grocers blame the increase of online sales and growing distribution costs.

"It's very hard as a small-town grocer to be able to give everybody everything they want and I think that's something we run into,” said State Senator Shawn Vedaa, R-Velva.

When stores order a shipment from a distributor, they have to pay an "up charge," or buy a certain quantity of an item for the distributor to deliver it. Smaller stores buy smaller quantities, so they either have to pay more per item or won't receive a shipment at all.

"So I've struggled with this wondering how we help in this situation. And I guess the more I though about it, the more I came to the conclusion that it depends what the state feels is important about our rural areas,” North Dakota Grocers Association President John Dyste said.

One proposed solution is a central pick-up location. Small stores order together and ship to a shared location, where they pick up thier orders; meeting order quotas and lowering prices. The problem is running those shared points come with costs.

This issue goes beyond grocery stores. Hardware stores and even pharmacies have been closing their doors as well; leaving many to drive long distances to get prescriptions.