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Schenectady County must build oases around its ‘food deserts’

Friday, May 17, 2013
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Sch’dy County must build oases around its ‘food deserts’

Re May 14 article, “Bellevue market gets second grant”: It’s that time of year when local fruits and vegetables start appearing on supermarket shelves and in Greenmarket booths, signifying the end of the winter-long drought of fresh produce. For some Schenectady County residents, however, that drought never ends.

Statistically, one out of every eight people in the county does not have access to a grocery store: They live in “food deserts” — neighborhoods located more than a mile from a supermarket. A mile may not seem far until you have to walk there and back, with small children, while carrying heavy grocery bags. For many families, lugging groceries and kids on public buses, or paying for a taxi, is no better. These food deserts have devastating — and completely avoidable — effects on health.

Last summer, the Schenectady Greenmarket piloted a satellite market in Bellevue, one of the county’s biggest food deserts. The market ran one day per week for four months, for a total of 16 days. The other 349 days of the year leave those families with no options but the limited choices available in nearby convenience stores and fast food restaurants. And what’s available is killing them.

There are currently twice as many overweight and obese individuals in the county as healthy ones. In 2011, obesity-related diseases like heart disease, stroke and diabetes caused one of three deaths. Obesity costs the county roughly $66.5 million per year in medical fees — think of all the good that could be done with just a fraction of those funds.

The American Cancer Society has proposed — and the state Public Health Association, Capital Region Healthy Communities Coalition, and Healthy School New York, Capital Region have endorsed — several common-sense solutions for food deserts, including tax incentives to entice supermarkets to open in underserved neighborhoods and to encourage convenience stores to sell fresh produce.

Other cities plagued with food deserts are doing more to create healthier neighborhoods. In Baltimore, where one out of every five people and one out of every four children live in a food desert, virtual supermarkets let people log on to the Internet and order groceries from home or the nearest public library, school or senior housing center. The groceries arrive at those sites at no extra cost, and customers can purchase their food with cash, credit cards or food stamps.

In south Los Angeles, a few residents founded L.A. Green Grounds, a volunteer group that builds gardens in vacant lots in low-income areas where there is little access to fresh food.

Baltimore’s virtual supermarkets and L.A.’s edible urban gardens are ending the drought that their poor neighborhoods face. Both programs are the product of collaborations between academic, government, grass-roots and volunteer efforts. Schenectady County has all of those things, yet food deserts persist. It is time for us to take action to give everyone in our county access to the bounty of springtime.

Danielle Schaub

Baltimore, Md.

The writer is a registered dietitian, graduate student and Scotia native.

School boards have diverse constituencies

School elections don’t get the attention they deserve, as the community has no greater voice in any other election.

Voters directly accept or reject budget proposals, so your vote is extremely important. The second consideration is who represents you on the school board.

My first term on the board has required challenging decisions. There are some constituencies who believe I haven’t acted in their best interests. In fact, at one board meeting I was told by a staff member, “You aren’t on our side!” Well, the school board isn’t about sides, it’s about representing the community as a whole.

Our community includes many “sides”: staff, families with and without children, retirees, business owners and, most importantly, our students. The board’s goal is to provide our students with the best possible education while taking into account the needs of the entire community.

When I joined the board three years ago, I learned [from Census data] that between 2007 and 2010, BH-BL had a 194.6 percent increase of children in poverty. We have people living right in our own community who are struggling. They may be your friends, neighbors or relatives, and they don’t want to publicly admit their strife, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about them.

Being on the school board means acting in the best interests of the entire community, not one side over the other. Please vote Tuesday, and carefully consider whom you choose to represent you on the school board.

William Farmer

Burnt Hills

The writer is a school board candidate.

Sch’dy schools need early education boost

I am running for Schenectady school board because I want to create an outstanding school district. I love living in Schenectady. My wife and I bought a house here, and our three kids will soon be entering city schools.

The past two school budgets have made cuts to early education. This will cost the district more money in the long run than it will save in the short run. More importantly, it will irreparably harm the children who are not receiving high-quality early education.

Neuroscientists and grandmothers everywhere know that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important. And, unfortunately, educators have found that the education achievement gap is persistent once kids reach the age of 5. Skill begets skill, and low-skill kids find it difficult to overcome the initial head start of their peers.

Schenectady is not alone. Many urban districts have large portions of their children who do not have adequate school skills by the time they enter kindergarten, but cities have overcome this problem. Districts that have transformed their educational indicators, like dropout rates, have prioritized early education.

Let’s ensure that all children in the city are enrolled in full-day, year-round, high-quality education at the age of 3. This will have short-term benefits of increasing the skills and motivation of the children enrolled, and in the long term will significantly reduce financial costs for society as these children become empowered and productive adults.

Vote to prioritize early education. Vote on May 21, from noon to 9 p.m., for me.

Tom Hodgkins

Schenectady

Nisky didn’t overspend; state underfunded

To answer letters by Richard Baker [May 9] and Jim Vincent [May 12] re this year’s Niskayuna school budget, I would note the following: The tax levy increase of 5.76 percent is about $560,000 higher than the 4.66 percent increase needed for a simple majority vote.

However the Niskayuna school district has had to contend with a $14 million shortfall in promised state aid over the past four years. If the state had returned this money [which comes from] our income tax, the school board would have easily stayed within the 4.66 percent cap.

In my opinion, the board did a very good job preserving educational opportunities and addressing the concerns of taxpayers. I hope people will consider this and vote yes on the proposed budget May 21.

Joseph J. Hehir

Niskayuna

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comments

May 17, 2013
9:36 a.m.
Toid says...

Mr. Hodgkins - you make clear where you want to focus school resources, but school budgets these days are a zero sum game. If your plan is to move resources to early education - you need to have an honest budget and specificially spell out what you will cut. You are only telling half your story. Voters need to understand your full story. What will be cut? Will you cut music, sports, high school electives, have larger class sizes? Let us know, so we can weigh not just the benefits, but the costs as well.

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