Gardenhire plans to tackle Tennessee 'food deserts' with new legislation

Rep. Todd Gardenhire talks about his immigration legislation during the Times Free Press sponsored Legislative Roundtable Tuesday at the newspaper.

NASHVILLE - State Sen. Todd Gardenhire says he plans to push legislation next year aimed at reducing "food deserts" that impact an estimated one out of every five Tennesseans' access to fresh and affordable food, especially in inner-city areas.

The Chattanooga Republican made the announcement Monday to Rotary Club of Chattanooga Hamilton Place members.

Gardenhire said he is looking at incentivizing grocery stores to locate in areas considered food deserts because affordable and healthy food options are often limited or non-existent.

"When 21% of Tennesseans do not have access to affordable healthy food options, it is no wonder Tennessee ranks among the bottom states for obesity," Gardenhire said a news release. "That's why I intend to introduce legislation this year that will help increase access to healthy foods in inner-city food deserts and also help educate citizens on healthy diets and food preparation."

Gardenhire's district includes urban areas of Chattanooga. The senator intends to push the legislation during state lawmakers' 2020 session thatstarts in January.

"Ultimately, it's my hope that attacking the issues of both access and education can facilitate lifestyle changes that will have an impact for generations to come," he said.

The senator cited a Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations report that found one in five Tennesseans live in an area considered to be a food desert. Fifteen percent live in an urban food desert, while 6 percent live in rural food deserts.

Gardenhire said the legislation is intended to be "community focused," and he hopes to use the Tennessee Department of Workforce Development to provide incentives to train community members to work in nearby food stores. He also wants to see the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development help provide economic incentives for grocery stores to relocate to inner cities.

"Food deserts have been a growing issue in inner-city communities, and I hope to help provide some relief with this legislation. Combating this problem will be an ongoing effort for many years to come, but I look forward to working with communities and state leaders to find solutions," the senator said.