What is a food desert?

Youth activist, Claire Kimberlin, voices her concerns about the effect of food deserts on its inhabitants (1).

A lack of access to healthy, fresh and affordable food unhealthy diets for many Americans today. Urban neighborhoods greater than one mile from the nearest super market and housing low-income families are ones that lack this accessibility (1). This makes sense, as families without a car or funds for public transportation struggle to travel past their local gas station to a grocery store with fresh produce; and even if these families were to reach a supermarket, their low income lacks the purchasing power to provide quality foods for their family. These neighborhoods with these families are called “food deserts” and they are located in abundance across America.

Food deserts in the United States (2)

You can find food deserts near you with the United States Department of Agriculture’s new food desert locator map (2). As a result of food desert conditions, families resort to the processed foods sold at their local gas station, or fast-food restaurants.

Studies show these conditions place children of low-income families living in a food desert at a disadvantage in school (3). To level the playing field, many communities focus on ways in which they can expand the availability of healthy, affordable foods. Methods for achieving this expansion surround urban farming and food literacy education. By learning how to farm and understanding of how healthy foods look and taste, children are empowered to grow their own healthy foods and make their own healthy decisions. This new, healthy lifestyle has proven to make a positive impact on students as they learn in the classroom and perform on tests (4).

Garden-based learning in schools (3)

Recently, some schools have taken on the role of improving the health of their students by adopting gardens as an outdoor classroom, calling this “garden-based learning.” The driving force of this type of learning, aside form the obvious benefits of providing students with healthy snacks and nutrition education, is the way in which this hands-on learning changes the way students view and practice learning (5).

Over the years, more and more communities have created organizations to actively fight the challenges presented by food deserts. These organizations often strive to maximize the yield per garden square foot and decrease grocery costs to diminish food insecurity in their neighborhoods. In doing this, community members spark conversation, posing questions about the garden being grown, exchanging produces, and asking for recipes. With united communities across the country, grassroots activist have made strides addressing food, social, and environmental injustices in their cities.