• By Katelyn Johnson
  • Posted Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Forsyth County Gains Three More Certified Healthy Stores

There are now six Certified Healthy Stores in Forsyth County. These stores are located in food deserts and allow residents to have access to healthy, affordable foods. The participating stores also receive free produce from Take What You Need, a program that involves a community garden that donates all food it produces. The produce is then distributed to the Certified Healthy Stores' customers for free.

Food deserts are areas where it is difficult to access and/or affordably purchase healthy foods. Many people located in food deserts are of a lower socioeconomic status and don't have access to a vehicle to drive to a grocery store. They are then forced to visit local convenience or corner stores for food. These stores don't often offer healthy foods, resulting in residents eating a lot of processed and low-health foods. This poor diet contributes to the burden of chronic diseases including but not limited to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. According to the 2018 Food Research and Action Center report, Winston-Salem has 21 food deserts and is ranked 7th on the national list for food hardship.

Katie Johnson leads the Healthy Communities program within the Health Promotion Disease Prevention team at the Forsyth County Department of Public Health. She is passionate about equal access to healthy foods in all communities, so she restarted the Forsyth County Healthy Corner Store Network.

The initiative works by credentialing stores that agree to carry healthy food items. To be a "Certified Healthy Store," a store must carry a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, low-fat or skim milk, and bottled water. The store must stock a variety of three to four products within each category at all times. The items must also have a reduced amount of sodium or sugar if they are in a packaged form. Once the store carries all required products, Katie applies the store to Eat Smart Move More NC. Stores that are approved will then receive a certificate and door sticker that they may display on the property. In order to be considered for the Healthy Store designation, a store must be located within a food desert, accept WIC and SNAP/EBT, and be under 3,000 square feet.

Katie Johnson and Alex Gillis (a teammate who focuses on nutrition and gardening for youth) maintain three large garden beds located at Simon's Community Garden at the Enterprise Center on South Martin Luther King Drive. The beds house a variety of plants including buttercrunch lettuce, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, radish, and carrots. Katie and Alex have already harvested and donated 173 pounds worth of vegetables as of January 2024. They hope to harvest at least 300 pounds of produce by May 2025.

The donation of this free produce to stores within food deserts in Winston-Salem allows residents to have increased access to fresh, nutritious food. Citizens don't have to worry about wasting their money on a new vegetable they may or may not like, which often deters them from trying something new. Storeowners have decided to help with this mission by moving some of their own surplus produce into the free basket as well. Katie and Alex hope that this initiative will increase healthy habits of Winston-Salem food desert residents and reduce the burden of chronic disease. Healthy Communities received certification for three other stores in October 2023. The store names and locations are listed below. The addition of these new stores brings the total of Certified Healthy Stores in Forsyth County to six. If you are interested in volunteering in the community garden this coming Spring or you are a storeowner interested in the program, please email Katie at johnsoky@forsyth.cc.

La Perlita Su Tienda Mexicana 815 Waughtown St Winston-Salem, NC 27107

La Victoria 321 Polo Rd Winston-Salem, NC 27105

Tienda Mexicana La Fe 6033 University Pkwy Winston-Salem, NC 27105

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