OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) In 2019, the Center for Disease Control awarded a grant to The United Way of Northern Utah and the Ogden Civil Action Network to assess different needs in Weber County. It took about two years to complete.
One of the biggest findings of the assessment was that 11 food deserts exist across the county. Of those 11, 10 are in Ogden City. Now, the organizations are forming the Ogden Food Policy Council which will be made up of 15 community members to find solutions.
One might ask, “What is a food desert?”
President and CEO of The United Way of Northern Utah answered that question during an interview with ABC4. “Basically, it’s a geographical area where people are not living close to access to affordable, healthy, culturally relevant food.”
He explained that it doesn’t mean people living in that area have no access to food. He said often the term “food swamp” is used in place of “food desert.” This is because in these areas there is often access to unhealthy convenient food in place of healthy food.
Jackson explained that the 10 food deserts in Ogden affect thousands of families. Often, the families most affected are those living along the poverty line. Not having access to food, he said is often intertwined with many other issues people living near the poverty level experience. Lack of access to healthy and affordable food can also amplify other issues in a community.
“Over the past 10 years, the cost of food in Weber County has gone up almost 25 percent, but families’ budgets for food have gone down three percent,” The United Way of Northern Utah Network Facilitator Alyson Williams told ABC4. The increase in food prices puts additional stress on families struggling to make ends meet.
“If your food budget takes up too big of a piece of your budget, there’s an opportunity cost,” Jackson stated. “What then are the parents unable to pay for as a result of it? Does it make it hard to, you know, pay rent at the end of the month?
To help solve this community-wide problem, Alyson Williams is spearheading the creation of the Ogden Food Policy Council which will consist of 15 members of the Ogden community. These members will be from all walks of life. They will consist of food producers, to consumers, and anyone in-between.
“Just because someone isn’t a professional food person doesn’t mean their lived experience isn’t valuable to the council,” Williams added.
Williams explained to ABC4 that there are nearly 300 similar councils across the United States. She said there are two other food councils here in Utah. One is run at the state level and the other is in Salt Lake City and is a city program. The Ogden council, she said, will be the only one in the state-run by a nonprofit rather than a government entity.
Williams said there is a lot the council will be doing and overseeing. However, she broke down the goal into three separate parts: create a strong food economy in Ogden, reduce food waste and find new ways to use the food, and improve access to healthy foods (this will be done in many ways like finding ways to get healthier foods in corner stores, bringing grocers to new areas, and helping those who qualify for food security assistance to get signed up).
“There have been many efforts to try and address this but (they) have been unsuccessful,” Jackson stated. “We believe with this really coordinated effort bringing in people from all parts of the food system that together we can get over that hump.”
The United Way of Northern Utah is taking applications to fill the 15 food policy council seats. The application process will close on November 30. The council will have its first meeting in January. To apply, click here.