3 Initiatives Improving Food Access in Food Deserts


[Photograph: MoGro]

Last week, we looked at the USDA's new Food Desert Locator, which reveals some of the many districts in the country where populations suffer from poor food access. Low-income communities are especially vulnerable in areas without groceries or bulk retailers. These individuals may get the majority of their calories from convenience stores in the form of processed foods.

Addressing the needs of those living in food deserts is a constant project of food security organizations and activists across the country. So, what's being done to fix this problem? Here are three cool ways that initiatives are finding ways to get fresh foods into underserved areas.

1. Mobile Groceries and CSAs

Food deserts are often in urban areas, with little to no access to farms. This makes joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) program difficult for those without cars or time to travel to farms for share pick-ups. Additionally, CSA programs often require an up-front payment from members which can be difficult for low-income families. Corbin Hill Road Farm adapted a CSA model to better serve communities throughout Harlem and the Bronx in New York City. Shareholders pay week-to-week, and shares are brought to central distribution points within the city. The program also takes food stamps.

A similar program just launched in New Mexico, serving the Santo Domingo Pueblo community. MoGro brings a refrigerated truck to this area, stocked with culturally relevant packaged foods and lots of fresh produce. This truck also accepts food stamps. The launch day saw over 100 customers, and the program plans to expand to more neighborhoods.

2. Zoning for Urban Agriculture

Planting abandoned lots in cities is not a new idea. But recent controversy over one of the country's most famous urban gardens, Novella Carpenter's Ghost Town Farm in Oakland, has renewed discussion about easing zoning laws to better accommodate urban farms. Carpenter had to pay $2,500 to the city so that she could continue to grow on her small plot of land, the money raised through her extensive connections and strong community support.

But the city of Oakland has now launched an initiative to ease zoning regulations so that those without capital or connections can also harvest from abandoned land. Sacramento is having a similar conversation in local politics. Increasing the number of community gardens can provide more food for low-income city dwellers, as well as provide a gathering place and social outlet for locals.

3. Vegetable and Fruit Prescriptions

Though doctors will recommend eating more fruits and veggies to those suffering from obesity and diabetes, the low-income demographic may not have the means to access those healthier foods. Fruit & Veggie Rx is a new initiative from Wholesome Wave that provides families with coupons for fresh produce. Clinic doctors determine the needs of the families and distribute the coupons, which are redeemable at local farmers' markets. The program is being piloted in Maine and Massachusetts, with plans to expand to other states.

All three of these initiatives are united in their efforts to improve distribution of healthy foods across urban areas. Food deserts are a real phenomenon, caused by a variety of socioeconomic and demographic influences. Taking a look at just a few of the many creative ways in which food access is being improved allows for some optimism for a future of food justice. Have you heard of other funky approaches to improving food access?