Desert or Oasis? You May Be Surprised

Do you live in a food desert?  Until last week I did not realize how close I live to a food desert.  What is a food desert?  That depends on where you live, rural and urban; according to the USDA . Organizations may have their own definitions, but I will use the USDA definition in this post. You live in a food desert if one mile (urban) or ten miles (rural) from a supermarket or large grocery store.

I was looking for information about the new Hardiness Zone map and food the USDA “Food Desert Locator”. The USDA reports there are “6,529 food-desert census tracts in the continental U.S.” and approximately 75% of the food-desert tracts are in Urban areas and the remaining 25% are rural.  To put the statics in terms of people, 13.6 million people live in a food desert and 82.2 % live in urban areas.

These are the 3,000 plus food deserts in the US

What do these number mean?  First, the USDA website has clarifications and definitions for those who require precision and accuracy.  I am more concerned about the general impacts and what it means for you and I.  The desert that is less than a mile from me has about 3,400 people in it.   What can be done to help the people who have difficulty getting to grocery store or supermarket. I know in my area there is a large convince store that has a good stock of fruit, vegetables and groceries but it does have limitations.

This is the food desert area nearest me

People in my area have to opportunity to grow their own food.  Clearly we need to help people grow more of their own food.  If you live in an urban area I think education is important.  Teaching people what they can grow at home, even in small areas.  Teaching about growing in urban plots.  Local initiatives to make gardening space accessible will help.

What is hidden in these numbers are the farmers’ markets and farm stands. The USDA does not count these small markets and grocery stores.  As with anything context always needs to come to numbers.  However, there are millions of people who live in these deserts and that can not be denied either.  Do you live in a food desert? How can you help those in a food desert? Please learn more about this topic, you can start at the USDA food desert website click here.

Last week I wrote growing sprouts and micro-greens. They have been doing really well, and they are  ready for eating.

The micro-greens doing well. Almost ready to eat.

I pulled out the sprouts and put them on a plate.

Could sprouts be used to help bring fresh fruit to people located in food deserts? Maybe, regardless they taste delicious.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.

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10 responses to “Desert or Oasis? You May Be Surprised

  1. You are so right – we do need to educate more people and more help needs to be available for people to grow their own food!

    Those micro-greens look pretty tasty! So good for you, too!

  2. Hey, Spencer! Great post about an important issue! I remember seeing the map for the first time a couple months ago; I found it interesting that I do not live in a food desert, however, the area across the street forms the edge of a rather sizable food desert. What is amusing is that there is a supermarket directly across the street in the food desert!

    • Thanks David. I think the information is interesting, but it definitely needs to be thought through carefully. There is an urban food desert near me and we most likely use the same supermarkets so I don’t know if they are in what most people think of as a food desert. The distance may be arbitrary but I think it does show us the challenges distance and food can be for people and starts a good conversation.

  3. Interesting post! I think encouraging people to grow some of their own food is an important step. I’d also like to see the correlation between obesity and living in a food desert. I suspect it would be a positive correlation as the food products that smaller “convenience” store seem (IMHO) seem to be more shelf stable and of poorer nutritional quality.

    • The study of obesity and food desert correlation would be interesting. Those shelf stable food can be enticing, especially from the packaging. The larger stores allow people to buy ingredients to make food, especially fruits and vegetables.

  4. Thanks for this interesting post. I don’t think I live in a food dessert, and living in the DC area I feel very fortunate to have access to many farmers’ markets. I think encouraging people to grow their own food is a good step, and educating people about the benefits of doing so, or the benefits of buying natural, whole foods vs. pre-packaged, “convenient” foods would also be an important step.

    • You may be surprised about the food deserts there are 9 food deserts in the DC area. The USDA measures food deserts based on supermarkets and larger grocery stores, and they don’t take farmers markets into account. Maybe in the future.

  5. The town of Chester, PA, with a population of 37,000 and a per capita income of $13,000 has no grocery store. The only places to shop are convenience stores with no fruits or vegetables. And the residents don’t have cars and there is no public transportation to a grocery store. This is a crime.

    • In situations like Chester I wonder how we expect people to be healthy. In my area the state allows people to use their benefit cards at farmers’ markets. As a taxpayer I appreciate that people can buy fresh food for themselves, and not have to drive to get to a farmers’ markets. Our local Extension offices try to get these markets in areas people can walk too.

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