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Experts Discuss Effect of COVID on Rural Nutrition

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Rural communities have struggled with access to fresh, healthy food even before the pandemic.

Experts in rural health policy are addressing the impact of COVID-19 on rural health - and in particular the issues that COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on.

One of those issues is a lack of access to fresh, healthy food. Molly Hammond, state director of the USDA Rural Development Center of Illinois, said it's also important to work with local producers.

"We have the value-added producer grant, where we're actually assisting the ag producer in maybe taking that raw commodity and adding value to that and putting it on the shelf somewhere. Whether it's tomatoes to salsa or grapes to wine, or whatever it may be," she said.

When it comes to food deserts, Sean Park, a program manager with the Illinois Cooperative Development Center, said communities can develop alternatives to major grocery retailers.

"What we try to do is go back in and use an alternative business model, a lot of times it's a cooperative, but it's usually a commodity owned business, and help them build their own retail facility where they can at least provide fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh meat," Park said.

He said those programs also benefit people who are concerned about COVID exposure at larger stores.

The SIU Medical School Department of Population Science and Policy and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute are continuing a series of monthly webinars and other events through January 2022.

The next webinar in the series will be held on Thursday, September 16th at noon and will focus on COVID's impact on children in rural areas. The webinars are free and open to the public. To register, go to the SIU School of Medicine's website.