loading...

Delivery Robots, Farmshares: DC Looks for Solutions to Serve Food Deserts

by Nena Perry-Brown

Lufa’s rooftop greenhouse and delivery vehicles in Montreal

As several new grocers have announced their intent to open in the District, the conversation about food deserts seems more salient than ever. 

This morning, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) hosted a roundtable with the goal of addressing inequitable access to fresh and healthy food in the city.

The statistics about DC’s disparate distribution of grocery stores are well-documented, with fewer full-service grocers east of the Anacostia River now than there were a decade ago. Office of Planning food policy director Laine Cidlowski pointed out that the current mayoral administration has committed $3 million to steering two developments in Wards 7 (map) and 8 (map) that would help close the grocery gap.

However, full-service grocers shouldn’t bear sole responsibility for bridging this gap.

“Supermarkets…want to run a business that is successful,” said Yesim Taylor, executive director of DC Policy Center. “If you believe in that kind of system, there’s no market favor in not having a store in certain neighborhoods, it just means that the company is doing the right thing opening up places where the rents, the income, all of those things can support the operations.”

Map of food deserts in DC

Executive director of DC Hunger Solutions (DCHS) Dr. Beverley Wheeler agrees that there are other equally important areas of focus that can provide short-term solutions.

“I like to talk about the continuum of healthy food access. There are grocery stores, there are healthy corner stores, we can have child nutrition programs, we have farmer’s markets….there doesn’t have to be one set way to delivery healthy food.”

In recent years, DCHS partnered with DC Central Kitchen to distribute affordable fresh produce to corner stores in lower-income neighborhoods. However, the District has a ways to go to expand shopping options for recipients of WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) federal nutrition benefits. Only half of the full-service grocery stores in the city accept WIC.

The on-demand delivery economy also presents an opportunity to ensure residents in food deserts have more convenient access to fresh food. Starship Technologies, which has had autonomous delivery robots roaming DC’s sidewalks for over a year, is one of twenty companies seeking to decrease dependency on pollutant-heavy delivery trucks. David Catania, former councilmember and current head of public affairs for Starship, sees technology as being key to food access.

Starship does not yet have any grocery stores as retail partners, but the robots can carry up to 20 pounds, or three bags’ worth, of groceries in one trip and can deliver in a 2-mile radius in a 30 to 45 minute span. Robovans, a courier “mothership” that is a product of Starship’s partnership with Mercedes Benz, can also be used to deploy multiple delivery robots to a neighborhood simultaneously or to house grocery pop-ups in underserved neighborhoods. However, although more delivery robots can dramatically decrease delivery fees, WIC and SNAP benefits do not cover delivery costs.

While grocery delivery robots may be a longer-term option, community gardens have gained favor in recent years as a productive use of the urban landscape and a potential stopgap in fresh food access. A DC law signed in 2015 makes vacant lots more accessible to the community for urban agriculture initiatives, although any evidence that these provide more fresh produce to neighborhood residents is mostly anecdotal thus far.

In Montreal, urban agriculture company Lufa has created a farmshare program that offers next-day delivery to members. Perhaps more locally-driven cooperatives like Lufa can represent a future for food access in DC as well. “Grocery store developments take anywhere from 2 to 10 to 15 years, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do things in the short term to get healthy food access to people today,” Cidlowski noted.

See other articles related to: food deserts dc

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/solutions-to-serve-dcs-food-deserts/13554

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Ballston
Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Clarendon
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Rosslyn
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
Shirlington
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
Huntington
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
Parkfairfax
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »

Maryland

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Annapolis
Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bethesda
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
Potomac
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
Wheaton
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Hyattsville
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Bloomingdale
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
Brightwood
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
Burleith
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
Crestwood
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
Georgetown
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
Kalorama
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
Palisades
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Petworth
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
Shaw
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Takoma
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Tenleytown
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

Brookland
New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
Deanwood
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Eckington
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
Langdon
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
NoMa
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Rosedale
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
Trinidad
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Woodridge
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Hillcrest
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾