According to the USDA, food deserts can either be found in urban neighborhoods or rural towns where residents don’t have adequate access to supermarkets and affordable fresh and healthy foods, but instead are left with limited choices like mini markets and fast food restaurants. While the term has been around since the 1990s, unfortunately food deserts have been around for much longer.
It’s also been a difficult problem to tackle judging from the USDA’s food deserts locator, which shows a shocking number of communities plagued by food insecurity.
There have been some successes though in the battle against food deserts. And as with many things, it seems as if there hasn't been just one solution, but instead a multi-pronged, community-based approach may be the key. Here are just a few remarkable programs going on in some U.S. cities to help solve the food desert crisis.
Philabundance, the non-profit food bank that serves the greater Philadelphia area opened the country’s first nonprofit grocery store in the Chester, PA, in 2013. The city had been without a grocery store of any kind since 2001. The store isn’t obligated to make a profit, meaning it can devote more of its resources to offering fresh, healthy food to the residents of Chester.
Started from the back of a pickup truck, Gather Baltimore has grown into a city-wide volunteer-based program that collects unsold produce and bread from farmers market and other sources for redistribution. They operate farm stands in several communities as well as donate food to local meal programs, faith communities, and others in need.
The California FreshWorks fund is a private-public partnership program that has raised over $270 million since its inception towards an investment pool to provide loans and grants for healthy food retailers wanting to build or expand in under-served neighborhoods.
The New York City nonprofit, City Harvest, operates a food rescue and distribution program along with an educational component aimed at residents. Recognizing the need to provide nutrition education along with access to nutritious food, City Harvest developed the Healthy Neighborhoods program. They partner with residents, community organizations, after school programs, and local businesses to engage residents in making healthy choices and enhancing the local food landscape.
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