SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sioux Falls city council members applauded efforts by the Sioux Falls Health Department to address the issue of food deserts. 

On Tuesday, the city launched its Eat Well Grant Program to help certain neighborhoods get better access to affordable and healthy foods. The program will offer one-time funding up to $400,000 to incentivize ideas or options to increase food access in USDA-defined “Food Access Priority Areas.”   

Mary Michaels, the Sioux Falls Public Health Prevention Coordinator, gave a presentation on the new program to city council members during an informational meeting Tuesday afternoon. 

“Our environment has really more of an impact on our health than our genetic code,” Michaels told city council members. “Food access really is a social determinant of health.” 

Michaels shared stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System that showed 35.5% of the adult population is considered obese, while 31.2% have high blood pressure and 11.3% have diabetes. 

The food priority areas are mostly neighborhoods located in the northern or northwestern part of the city. Hy-Vee closed one of its longtime grocery stores at 10th Street and Kiwanis Avenue, which fits in one of the food access priority areas. 

“They’ve really existed in our community for decades,” Michaels said about some of the areas, which are neighborhoods where people have to travel more than a mile to get to a grocery store. 

People in low food access areas are more likely to rely on convenience stores or gas stations, which often lack fresh and healthy foods. Map from the City of Sioux Falls.

Eligible businesses or organizations are new for-profit, nonprofit or cooperative entities. 

Projects that establish a grocery store or supermarket in a food access priority area or implement an innovative program to increase access to healthy foods in a sustainable and equitable manner. 

Not allowed for the funds are restaurants, cafes and prepared food businesses or businesses with alcohol or tobacco retail sales as a primary revenue source. 

You can apply online on the city’s website. 

Council member Greg Neitzert said it will be interesting to see who may apply. 

“They are commercial enterprises. They are in the business of making money,” Neitzert said about most grocery stores providing fresh produce. “They need to know that they will make money. They won’t go somewhere they don’t think they’ll make money.” 

Neitzert said the challenge for the neighborhoods without close access to healthy foods is there’s “not enough rooftops and not enough income in the rooftops.” 

“It’s a low-margin business as well,” Neitzert said about running grocery stores.  

Neitzert also clarified the locations for any new possible startups wouldn’t have to be directly in the neighborhoods but within a mile radius of the areas. 

Council member Janet Brekke asked about urban gardening. 

Michaels said there’s a food council and an urban ag task force has been discussed. 

City council member Rick Kiley asked about interest in the grant program and Michaels responded word about the money has gotten out and there has been interest. 

According to Michaels, there’ll be a selection committee with members from city finance, development and health departments.