Florence working to solve ‘food desert’ problem

Florence working to solve ‘food desert’ problem

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - A "food desert" surrounding downtown Florence is a problem the city says it's working to solve, in the name of improved health and quality of life.

Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela said the first rezoning for the area of North Baroody and Sumter streets was passed during a city council meeting. The plan is to create a new district called the Food, Artisan and Warehouse District.

"You're getting your food at the corner store, you're not getting quality food, you're worsening your health condition, your quality of life isn't as good, and you're not accessing that product that's being grown very close to where you live ultimately," Wukela said.

He added the people who live in the area do not have access to fresh foods.

The railroad line on North Baroody Street is what Wukela said divides the revitalization happening in downtown and the neighborhoods. He said it's the city's goal to revitalize the warehouses along the streets.

"Some of them are very, very useable and will fit into this use effectively," Wukela said. "I mean, you already have warehouses along the railroad tracks that were intended to use for warehousing."

To help with this new movement in downtown, Dale Barth invested in the area and opened a Red Bone Alley bottling and facility on North Baroody Street six months ago.

"We wanted to be downtown where it's a food desert, so we talked with the city about their plans to make a corridor and be a part of all that," Barth said.

He remembered how the downtown area used to thrive.

"They would bring cattle right there, you know out west, they'd bring cattle and do what they had to do with the cattle," Barth said. "So it was known years and years ago for having a lot of fresh food. So, we hope to recreate that."

The city wants the abandoned neighborhoods to be a part of all of the development happening in downtown.

"They have been identified by the United States Department of Agriculture as a food desert," Wukela said. "They don't have effective access or reasonable access to quality foodstuffs."

The same need exists for area farmers to have easy access to stores and refrigerate their products before distributing them to local restaurants, which Wukela said he wants to see happen in those warehouses.

"Whether it's baked bread or local honey, or whether it's candles or produce, we want that district to be the hub for all of that," he said.

The hope is the rezoning of the warehouse district will allow other businesses to join with Barth's.

"Nobody grows better food than we do in South Carolina," Barth said. "You want a tomato shipped from California? No, you want one that's grown right here in your backyard."

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