The same outreach lessons that our anti-hunger partners must learn to reach their target population in the suburbs can be very helpful for market organizers. And of course, for our goal in reaching more of that 99.97% who are not yet buying regional food regularly, organizers need to better understand those areas that are not yet replete with markets, including suburbs.
Nationally, according to a September report from the advocacy group Fairshare, hunger increased more rapidly in suburbs than in cities during the Great Recession. Between 2006 and 2013, large cities saw the number of students eligible for free or subsidized lunch rise by 5 percent. In the suburbs, that number grew by 11 percent.
The shifting demographics of many of those zip codes also needs to be considered when opening new markets. Some suburban census tracts are seeing high increases in newly arrived residents and as a result, becoming more racially diverse.
The more than 6,500 suburban communities and 22,000 census tracts in the 50 largest metropolitan areas are divided into four types based on their racial composition and urbanization, and data for the period 1980-2010 are used to examine racial change and to evaluate the stability of different types of communities. By 2010, just 39% of suburban residents in these metropolitan areas lived in “traditional” suburbs-predominantly white communities or developing exurban areas. This is much lower than in 2000 when 51% of suburban residents lived in these types of suburbs. At the same time, the percentage of suburban residents living in racially diverse suburbs increased from 38% to 44%, and another 17% lived in predominantly nonwhite suburbs by 2010.
Transportation is the primary challenge of getting food—and anything else—to the poor in the suburbs. “No one walks in Rockland County,” Serratore said. In any case, the distances are too far. More than 4,000 patrons of People to People, for example, come from Haverstraw, a faded industrial town on the Hudson, nine miles north of the pantry. “Rent comes first,” explained Charleen Borchers, a Rockland resident who works at McDonald’s. “Car insurance comes second. Then, at the bottom of the list, is food.” Some don’t have cars, so they come in taxi cabs. What might seem an indulgence to an urbanite is a necessity in the suburbs, even if it cuts into the money saved by getting free groceries. Others carpool with family or neighbors, or take the bus.