Food Desert: Sustainable Food Solutions In A New Century

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food desert shopping cart parking lot

There is a sweet little food co-op about 30 miles from me half way to a medium sized city. One of the board members shared with me this article about food deserts and guerilla gardening. He mentioned that our region is considered a food desert. Odd, since we live in a mainly agricultural area of vast orchards, organic vegetable and fruit farms, and thriving farmers markets!

Food desert: the Problem

Northern New Mexico is considered a food desert, because supermarkets are not located close enough to the many small villages here. The co-op is the only food store for 30 miles in either direction.

This is also one of the poorest areas in the country with high unemployment and widespread poverty. People either don’t have cars or they don’t have money for gas to travel to a supermarket. Public transportation is sorely lacking, although what we do have is free to ride. It’s just not convenient.

The co-op is trying to alleviate these issues somewhat. Although they fill a gap between two towns with plentiful food stores, there are still many people living far even from the co-op.

The USDA definition of a food desert is an area where there is limited access to affordable, fresh, healthy food. That’s northern New Mexico. Here is a map of US food deserts. Are you on it?

Food desert to food forest

The article above suggests guerrilla gardening as a viable solution. guerrilla gardening started out as outlaw gardening. Activists would secretly plant food in empty urban lots, median strips, the strip between the sidewalk and the road, and all wasted space in the urban landscape. City governments tried to make it stop, but now they see it’s a necessity, and laws are being changed.

This is the beginning of the food forest movement. Food deserts are turned into food forests with municipalities on board. In urban and rural areas, parks and other large expanses of easy-to-get-to land are being planted with perennial and annual fruits and vegetables.

fruit and vegetables

Mobile markets

One of my favorite solutions to get food into food deserts is a mobile market. A friend in upstate New York has received a grant to do this. She will collect fresh produce from local farms and deliver to food deserts in rural areas. It’s sort of like the traveling library of food!

This is a great idea. Transportation is a big issue as far as getting to a good supermarket. Many small towns have convenience stores full of processed junk food. This is the only thing some people have available to them. Imagine a truck full of fresh food showing up in a town like that! I think it would be widely accepted and appreciated, especially if SNAP benefits (food stamps) were allowed.

As the owner of a budding seed company, I feel it’s my responsibility to get vegetable seed and nursery starts into the local food deserts. This will probably entail teaching people how to grow their own food, too.

How You Can Help

Every human has a right to good health. Getting fresh food to people who can’t access it should be a priority. Maybe you can find a way to help out. Plant something and share it. In an out-of-the-way location, start farming. You can also start a food co-op, small market, farmers market or mobile market. Healthy people are happy people, and helping others will make you feel good, too.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.