How limited is access to food in Evanston?

A convenience store that offers the only nearby food source for some west Evanston residents. (Google Maps)

Depending on how you measure it, several neighborhoods in Evanston have limited access to full service food stores.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published in 2015, says no census tract in Evanston has a substantial number of low income residents who have to travel more than a mile to a supermarket.

But if you narrow the distance range to a half mile, then four of the city's 18 census tracts have the access problem.


Yellow highlighting marks low-income census tracts in and around Evanston in which many residents are more than a half mile from a supermarket.

In tract 8092, in the western portion of the 5th Ward, nearly all residents are more than a half mile from a supermarket and 42 percent are also low income.

In tract 8093, which includes portions of the 1st, 5th and 7th Wards, nearly all residents are more than a half mile from a supermarket and 57 percent are also low income.

In tract 8087.02, which includes portions of the 1st and 7th Wards, 61 percent of residents are more than a half mile from a supermarket and 27 percent are also low income.

And in tract 8102 in the 8th Ward, 22 percent of residents are more than a half mile from a supermarket 4 percent are also low income.

The City Council last month in adopting its goals for 2019-20 set as one of its metrics for judging how much it has improved the built environment, assessing the "percentage of households of low to moderate income or minority status who are within one mile of a full-service grocery store."

It would appear from the USDA data it has already achieved a near-perfect score if that's the metric.

But Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says too many families in her ward are "food insecure."

She said she appreciates the convenience a small market like Babylon Foods on Emerson Street offers, but that the neighborhood needs a larger store that would provide access "to wholesome food, fairly priced, in abundance and not priced at a premium because of convenience.

She said many residents of the ward have food stamp Link Cards, which aren't accepted by food delivery services like Instacart, and also lack access to transportation.

"The fact they have to go to neighhorhood convenience stores to get what are often dated and non-fresh food items to feed their families is inequitable," Rue Simmons added.

She suggested that if the Robinson Rentals property, which includes the strip mall housing Babylon Foods is redeveloped, it could become the site for a new, larger market that would have fresh foods and become "a mini-version of Whole Foods" for the neighborhood.

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Comments

Access to full food stores

Low income households can qualify for the Illinois Benefit Access Program which entitles people to free public transit. A free one seat ride on public transit can provide easy access for those who must travel more than one half a mile to reach a super market.

Grocery delivery services

Evanston should educate low income individuals about grocery delivery services. For example, Amazon recently started accepting EBT.

What about public transit

The CTA 93 bus route runs up and down Dodge which provides access to Valli Foods, which is an excellent selection of produce and other fresh foods at an attractive price point.

Question on vision for the neighborhood

My understanding is that the grocery business is tough.  A grocer at that location would face tough competition on price and selection from Valli.  What does she expect the city's role would be to make building a bigger grocery store an attractive investment?

An essential element for any grocer is having nearby customers.  The more the better, but the alderman has expressed opposition to allowing that to happen by stating her desire to down zone parcels on Emerson St.

This makes we question what is her vision for Evanston, and for the 5th ward.  IMO, high residential density begets neighborhood retail and walkability.  I could be wrong, but I hope the city seeks input from real estate developers and investors to get input on economic viability of these ideas.