Of course some people in Oxford earn little; most of them are students who live on loans, grants and other sources that don't show up as income. And while some Oxonians live more than a mile from a grocery store, a bus will take them there for a dollar or less.
The Pantry's volunteers distribute groceries weekly to people in need. "More Than a Meal" feeds Tuesday supper to just about anyone who wants it. Several churches additionally host regular public meals.
Many Oxonians have vegetable gardens. Those without suitable land can have a free plot, along with limitless compost and advice, at the community garden.
Volunteer-driven Mid-Town Farmers' Market, often pointed to as a model as both a vegetable venue and a community happening, offers locally grown produce from exotic arugula and squash blossoms to basic peas, corn and tomatoes. (Full disclosure: Though we're no longer involved, my wife and I are former board members and vendors.)
There's another farmers' market in nearby Taylor, and Yokna Bottom Farms delivers produce in town. Other farmers sell from their farmsteads or run regular routes. A business called "The Farmers Market" also sells produce.
Besides all these venues for food, Kroger, Walmart and Big Star all have extensive produce sections. All take cash, credit cards and USDA-issued EBT cards. All are on major roads and are served by six-days-a-week bus service.
Still, USDA is funneling some $62,000 to the Oxford Park Commission to create yet another farmers' market out of the apparent fear that people will starve without its intervention. The city is considering spending several times as much for a market pavilion.
Ironically, the monetary solution won't alleviate the manufactured problem. No number of new farmers' markets would change Oxford's "food desert" designation.
The only solutions would be either to add a grocery store in a commercially untenable but USDA-approved location or to boot a few thousand students out of town so they don't skew the poverty figures.
Instead of embracing USDA's false condemnation as the price of "free money," Oxford officials and residents should be incensed that someone in D.C. would decide to slap the pejorative "food desert" on such a generous and generally prosperous community.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at email@example.com.