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Wadena, an oasis surrounded by food desert, study says

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The city of Wadena and the rest of its census tract is an oasis nearly surrounded by food deserts, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

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The USDA website and the Healthy Food Financing Initaitve (HFFI) define a food desert as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

Farmers markets and small grocery stores carrying healthy food are not included in the statistics.

A low-income census tract is one with a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, or a median family income at or below 80 percent of the state's median family income.

A low-access census tract has at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population residing far from a supermarket or large grocery store - one mile away if urban and 10 miles away if rural.

The food desert locator was updated with refined estimates on September 2011, after previously using data from the 2000 long-form census.

In Wadena County, two of three census tracts are considered to be food deserts.

Census Tract 9802 encompasses central and southwest Wadena County and includes the northwest part of the city of Wadena by the golf course, the city of Sebeka, the city of Verndale, the city of Aldrich, Staples annex and the communities of Blue Grass and Oylen.

Of 5,166 people in this census tract, 1,547 (30 percent) were considered to have low food access.

There were 218 people (4.3 percent) with both low access and low incomes.

Among children in this census tract, 379 (7.3 percent) had low access.

Among seniors, 299 (5.8 percent) had low access.

Forty-four housing units (2.3 percent) in this census tract had low access and also lacked a vehicle.

Census Tract 9081 covers northern Wadena County and includes the cities of Menahga and Nimrod and the community of Huntersville.

Of 3,218 people in Census Tract 9081, the vast majority were considered to have low food access: 2,700 or 83.9 percent.

There were 356 people (11.6 percent) with both low access and low incomes.

Among children in this census tract, 712 (22.1 percent) had low access.

Among seniors, 603 (18.7 percent) had low access.

Sixty-eight housing units (5.5 percent) had low access and also lacked a vehicle.

Just south of Wadena, northeast Todd County (Census Tract 9902) is also considered a food desert with about half its population having low access to healthy food. This census tract includes the cities of Hewitt and Bertha and has 2,557 people.

Of this population, there were 1,386 people (54.2 percent) total with low access.

There were 201 people (7.9 percent) with both low access and low incomes.

Among children in this census tract, 413 (16.1 percent) had low access.

Among seniors, 227 (8.9 percent) had low access.

Thirty-three housing units (3.6 percent) had low access and also lacked a vehicle.

In east Otter Tail County, Census Tract 9613 including Deer Creek, Henning and the western edge of the city of Wadena was considered a food desert.

Of 3,935 people total, 1078 (27.4 percent) had low access to healthy food.

There were 170 people (4.4 percent) with both low access and low incomes.

Among children in this census tract, 268 (6.8 percent) had low access.

Among seniors, 281 (7.1 percent) had low access.

Forty-three housing units (2.8 percent) in this census tract had low access and also lacked a vehicle.

Census Tract 9803, southwest Wadena County including the most of the city of Wadena, is not considered to be a food desert.

Neither is Census Tract 9606, a part of east Otter Tail County including Bluffton and New York Mills.

No further information was provided for census tracts not listed as food deserts.

Not all census tracts considered food deserts were rural areas: the two census urbanized area tracts covering the city of Alexandria, the three urbanized tracts covering Brainerd, one of the Detroit Lakes urbanized tracts and one of the Little Falls urbanized tracts were listed as food deserts.

Statewide, 63 of the 87 counties had at least one food desert.

The food desert tracts tended to be in the northern half of and the southwestern quarter of Minnesota.

The Twin Cities metro area had some food desert tracts, but there were almost none in a wide radius around the metro area including the Rochester and St. Cloud areas.

The Food Desert Locator can be found on www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodDesert.

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