Food Deserts: Fast Facts
- There are over 6,500 food deserts in America, leaving millions without access to nutritious food options.
- Food deserts are more likely to be located in poor neighborhoods.
- Urban gardening is a proven way to help Americans access fresh, healthy foods.
“Can the simple act of planting a seed really change lives?” That’s what the documentary, Can You Dig This, sets out to discover. The documentary is filled with inspiring stories of individuals who were determined to take charge of their health — and their lives.Read More
One of the gardeners, Kenya, laughs when she remembers how surprised she was at the thought of a garden: “Garden in Compton, and I laugh. We all laughed. Are you serious?”
And yet, the idea worked. The Compton Community Garden is thriving, and in addition to “organic urban gardening,” the members of the initiative promote “cultural exchange, ecological discourse, and social reform.”
What Is A Food Desert?
The Annie E. Casey Foundation says, “Food deserts are geographic areas where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods — especially fresh fruits and vegetables.”
How common are they? Feeding America explains that 1 in 8 Americans face food insecurity, including 13 million children. One study found that, as of 2006, there were over 6,500 food deserts in the United States.
These statistics are shocking, because they mean one thing: throughout the country, millions of citizens are not within a reasonable distance of a grocery store or local market that sells fresh fruit, vegetables, and other products. The lack of these foods can be disastrous for one’s health. Krista Maruschak, MS, RD, LD tells SurvivorNet that fresh, whole foods are part of an anti-inflammatory diet, which can reduce risks of cancer: “An anti-inflammatory diet is made up of a variety of fruits and vegetables. … as many colors of fruits and vegetables that you can incorporate throughout the day.”
Because these tend to be poor neighborhoods, both urban and rural, people often don’t have vehicles to drive to farther locations.
So what do they eat? Studies show that in such neighborhoods, people are limited to fast-food restaurants, dollar stores, or other places where only highly processed and refined foods are available. While these may be less expensive, they are also less nutritious.
What Are the Obstacles to Community Gardens?
Urban farmers are revolutionizing food access across America. But they face many obstacles, including land. Farmers need a plot of land to grow, and this primary resource is not always easily available. They need tools and equipment to dig, build, plant, and maintain their gardens. Finally, they need a way to provide fresh water to their gardens.
Many also face city regulations, or outdated laws that make their work difficult. Applying for permits or paying fees and obtaining licenses can also put a strain on a farmer’s resources. “Some people call these neighborhoods food deserts,” says one farmer, “but I call them food prisons. Because you can grow stuff in a desert. In prison, you need permission to do everything.”
Nevertheless, growing your own food, he says, “is defiant” and empowering.
Ways to Help
Donate to food banks. Many people depend on donations from local food banks and food pantries. Donate fresh, healthy foods rather than processed or highly refined options.
Support and volunteer at community gardens. Consider donating seeds, tools, or your time. The American Community Gardening Association offers a site to find a community garden near you.
Advocate for improved funding for public transportation. Many people in food deserts don’t have a car and depend on public transportation. However, as the USC Economics Review states, “American public transportation is failing low-income communities. Racial and class inequalities are entrenched in the urban public transit system.” Get involved in local politics and make your voice heard for improved funding and maintenance of subways, trains, and bus systems.
More Than Just Food
The wealthiest country in the world shouldn’t have such disparity in access to fresh food options. Although more needs to be done, urban farming is just one way to combat food deserts.
“I took this empty plot of dirt in front of my home, and I planted an ecosystem,” says one farmer in Can You Dig This. “And once I planted, I discovered so much more than just food.”
Learn more about food deserts and community gardens, in Can You Dig This, on SurvivorNetTV.