Your local gas station could be your next go-to spot for fresh produce. The City of Austin is working to reach neighborhoods where healthy food is hard to find, by teaming up with area business owners.

The Austin Economic Development Department is teaming up with the Public Health Department to expand the city’s Healthy Corner Store Program. Tuesday, city officials will host a free virtual information session for business owners interested in signing up for the program.

The program helps convenience store owners incorporate healthy foods into their stores. Things like fresh produce, canned fruits and vegetables, and even some prepared healthy meals.

“Healthy foods are really important for a healthy quality of life simply put,” said Carol Fraser, the economic development’s food systems program coordinator.

This time, the program will target the city’s eastern crescent stretching from the northeast side of town all the way down along Interstate 35 to southeast Austin.“Many of the ZIP codes within the city’s eastern crescent don’t have a full-service grocery store, and really have a limited amount of food retail selling healthy produce,” Fraser explained.

Data from a city 2018 report shows Austin’s food insecurity rate sits at 16%, just 2% higher than the national average. The eastern side of town is affected the most.The 2018 study shows areas highlighted in red face the most barriers, like limited availability of healthy food, lower incomes and fewer mobility options.

“We are definitely interested in increasing access to healthy foods and promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Fraser said.

Interested business owners have through the end of October to sign up for the program. Those who sign up are asked to commit to the program for at least a year. City officials said they will subsidize the healthy food costs by half. Fraser also said they have funding to provide business owners with refrigeration units and display cases to help their business promote the healthy food options.

Tuesday’s virtual information session starts at 3 p.m. There’s another information session scheduled for Monday, Oct. 5.

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