Grocery hours important for food availability
According to Peabody resident Becky Nickel, having grocery stores with extended hours is important for rural residents.
“The hours are there,” she said. “That’s one way to really work with the community.”
Nontraditional hours are especially beneficial for farm families, said Tristen Cope, family and consumer sciences agent with Kansas State Extension in Marion.
“With some of the ag families during the harvest hours, those are not typical hours someone would work, or when a grocery store would be open,” she said. “You have to take that into consideration looking at different data. For them, it is a hardship trying to get to the store.”
One of the benefits for residents is that Marion County has a limited size, Cope said.
“There’s room for improvement, but we are decent because it’s not 30 miles to the next town,” she said.
A rural community is classified as a food desert when it’s more than 10 miles from a source for nutritious food.
Most areas of the county have a grocery store within 15 miles, but remote regions, like Burns in the east, or Tampa in the north, have 20 miles to the nearest full-access grocery store.
One way to make the process easier is by making grocery lists, Durham resident Shirley Flaming said.
“When I make a grocery list, I always think for the week ahead,” she said. “What are we going to need?”
Even if people don’t live close to a store, there can be opportunities to go shopping, Nickel said.
“It boils down to where people work,” she said. “A lot of people shop where they work.”
Nickel helped write a grant application last year, which led to Peabody Market getting a salad bar, where produce is available to residents.
“When a community doesn’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, the community’s health tends to decline,” she said.
Even if it isn’t a full grocery store, having somewhere like Tampa Trail Shop to buy important foods is very helpful, Cope said.
“If you’re able to just get the necessities, that will make the difference when trying to put a meal on the table,” she said.
Flaming and her husband often go to Hillsboro Senior Center for lunch, which makes getting to the grocery store convenient, she said.
“We’re in Hillsboro a lot anyway,” she said. “I buy groceries once a week and we figure out what we need.”
Going to the senior center is also convenient because Flaming only has to prepare breakfast and supper every day, she said.
When compared to counties of comparable size, geography and distance from bigger cities can make an important difference, Cope said.
“Part of it is where you’re at regionally,” she said. “If you’re looking at anything in Western Kansas, the food deserts increase more.”
However, much of the process is difficult to predict, and can come down to luck, Cope said.
Russell and Allen counties, both have similar populations to Marion County, but their food availability is worse. Russell County scored 7.5 on a food scale of 1 to 10 from County Health Rankings, and Allen County was 6.2, while Marion County managed a 7.7.
Nemaha County, which has 2,000 fewer residents, has a food index score of 8.1, despite being a similar distance from major population centers.