Elgin's north sides have low access to grocery stores
For residents on Elgin's north side hoping for a grocery store closer to home, the wheels are turning at the government level and within the community to make that a reality.
Many areas in the northeast and northwest corners of the community are considered to have low access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines low-access communities as census tracts where more than one-third of the residents live more than a mile from a grocery store -- in rural areas the qualifying distance is 10 miles.
Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, a resident of the Eagle Heights neighborhood on the northwest side, said access to fresh food is all part of a healthier lifestyle. When there's no food in the fridge and a trip to a grocery store is more than a walk down the street, parents are more likely to give their kids a few dollars to eat fast food instead of piling in the car to get ingredients for dinner.
"That's not the worst thing sometimes, but it's not good every day," Kaptain said.
The mayor said he would like a citizen task force to discuss economic incentives to lure a grocer into town.
Working groups will be formed in coming months to look at nine initiatives the city council highlighted in its strategic planning effort, including economic development.
By October, Kaptain wants a response from the community group about whether it makes sense to offer incentives to lure a grocery store into areas without one. The city council then can discuss the idea during budget talks.
Beverly Henry, associate professor of nutrition at Northern Illinois University, also lives on the northwest side and has watched efforts to get a grocery store in her part of town.
Years ago, she could walk to the Eagle Country Market in Tyler Creek Plaza. Now she has to drive three miles to Jewel.
For people without a car, making the trip is an ordeal and encourages bad decisions, she said.
"How we can make healthy choices easier for people is really what we should be thinking about," Henry said.
Physical activity has been a big focus this year for Activate Elgin, a coalition of groups dedicated to making Elgin-area residents healthier of which Henry is a member. Henry said the coalition may shift to advocating for access to fresh fruits and vegetables if an opportunity presents itself.
Chicago now allows food trucks in city neighborhoods, presenting the possibility of roving farmers markets. Kaptain said this could be another thing to look into locally.
While Elgin prohibits sales from motor vehicles, the city council could change the ordinance to provide greater access to food.
At least one major grocer is looking at Elgin's northeast side for a new store location, but no leases have been signed or properties purchased. Until that happens, groups like Activate Elgin and elected officials will be brainstorming ways to get fresh food to residents.
"A livable, healthy community is what we'd like to see Elgin become," Henry said.