With the county's major supermarkets centered in Crescent City, we want to know how Del Norters, especially those living in Klamath, get their food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as an area with limited or no access to fresh produce within a one-mile radius in a city or a 10-mile radius in rural areas. This applies to most county residents, but in Klamath, where the only food stores are Pem Mey Fuel Mart and Woodland Villa and with Crescent City about 20 miles away, there's little question the area is a food desert.
One Klamath resident, Becka Corcovelos said she recently paid $7 for breakfast sausage at Pem Mey. The selection for fresh vegetables at that store is very limited, she said.
“If you don’t grow it, get commodities or get up to town often, you are living off of Chester’s (Chicken) or garbage,” Corcovelos said.
Another resident noted that for those who don't have a car and live in Klamath Glen getting to Pem Mey is a three-mile walk down Route 169 to the town site.
"No one wants to walk that road, it's a death trap," she said. "You'd have to walk a seven-mile round trip to access Pem Mey from the Glen."
Out of the 28,610 people that call Del Norte County home, 22 percent of adults experienced poverty in 2016, according to statistics from the California Center for Rural Policy (CCRP) at Humboldt State University. The statewide poverty rate in 2016 was 14.7 percent.
In a draft food systems analysis of the county, CCRP reported that 16.8 percent of Del Norte's population is food insecure. In 2014, 29.7 percent of households with children struggled to get enough to eat.
According to food security surveys from the USDA, those experiencing low food security will often say they worry they won’t have enough food to make it through the end of the month, said Angela Glore, former food programs director for the Community Food Council and current executive director of First 5 Del Norte.
Others may not know where their next meal is coming from, Glore said. These surveys also ask adults if they’ve ever skipped a meal so their children could eat, she said.
"Really, people skipping meals, then it's called very low food security. It's also sometimes called hunger," Glore said. "If you just struggle to get enough food, but you do more or less always eat, then you're considered food insecure, or you have low food security. If you have very low food security, it means you're most likely skipping meals sometimes."
Organizations like the Community Food Council and Rural Human Services have been working for many years to make sure Del Norters get enough to eat. Last year, the Food Council opened Pacific Pantry, a choice-style food pantry primarily for Crescent City residents.
Rural Human Services also operates a food bank and distributes boxes in Klamath, Smith River and various parts around Crescent City monthly. Food and Family Services Director Ron Phillips said the nonprofit distributed commodities boxes to 634 households in April, 72 in Klamath, 48 in Smith River, 144 at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Crescent City and about 380 at the RHS building in Crescent City.
Del Norte Unified School District also plays a role in keeping the community's youngest members fed. Seven out of 10 of its 3,567 students qualify for free or reduced price meals, said Nutrition Services Director Deborah Kravitz. This means their families are eligible for aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) MediCal or Medicaid, she said.
Last year enough students were directly certified through SNAP, MediCal or Medicaid that Del Norte Unified School District was able to take advantage of a program that provides free meals at all of its elementary schools, Crescent Elk Middle School and Sunset High School, according to Kravitz.
At 88 percent, Margaret Keating Elementary School in Klamath has the highest percentage of students participating in the school breakfast and lunch program, Kravitz said. The schools that come in second include Joe Hamilton and Bess Maxwell Elementary Schools, both with 84 percent of its student body participating in the school meals program. Pine Grove and Smith River schools rank third at 79 percent, Kravitz said.
"When you speak about food insecurity, I'm comfortable addressing it in a school setting," Kravitz said. "Our student body is representative of our community... Just the simple fact that seven out of 10 of our students qualify for free and reduced price meals are saying they are food insecure."
There's no question food security concerns several nonprofits and government entities, but we haven't heard from the people experiencing the problem.
The Del Norte Triplicate has received support from the University of Southern California's Center for Health Journalism to embark on a project about food insecurity in Klamath and Del Norte County.
As part of that project, we've launched a survey to learn about Klamath residents' shopping habits.
We want to hear about your experiences — is it hard for you to get food where you live? In addition to grocery shopping, how else do you get your food? Have you come up with unique ways to feed your family and if so, what are they? And, finally, how can local policymakers, including county supervisors and Yurok Tribal officials, make food access easier?
You can help us make sense of what's going on in Del Norte County and Klamath by answering the questions below at www.triplicate.com.
We won't publish any information you share without your permission. If you'd rather talk via phone, text or email, call (707) 464-2141, text (707) 951-4908 or email email@example.com .