These food deserts contain 13.5 million people with low access to sources of healthful food. The majority of this population—82 percent—live in urban areas.
It’s been a long week. Preparing to start your dietetic internship (DI) means hours on hours of orientations. However, we did get a break for community service. At the University of Kansas Medical Center they have a Community Service Day during orientation every year. So I spent my Thursday morning pulling weeds and hoeing rows in an urban garden in a Kansas City suburb.
This garden addresses a serious problem that can be found in both rural and urban communities across the United States, the Food Desert. Food Deserts are areas where access to food of any kind, especially produce, is severely limited. In some foods deserts, access to a grocery store may not be the issue, but many times it is impossible to by fresh food because the produce is either spoiled or not in stock as was often the case in the rural community I was living in Western Kansas. In Kansas City, I have a problem that I have never encountered before; needing to drive at least 20 minutes to a supermarket that carries a variety of food for a reasonable price. Don’t get me wrong, downtown Kansas City does have a few options, however, one of the markets which is mainly produce closes at 4:30 pm, and the other is too expensive to regularly shop at without blowing my entire food budget out of the water. Despite the inconvenient distances for me, I also have to think about those who do not have a vehicle to travel in, or the means to pay for both gas and groceries.
After living in D.C. over the summer, where most people walk or use public transport to get around because it’s impossible to find parking, my eyes were opened a little wider to this issue. I lucked out because I lived caddy corner to a supermarket that was fairly well stocked but you could only buy what you could carry home. This was fine for me, because I was living on my own, but I can’t imagine how this would work if I were shopping for an entire family.
Rich or poor food deserts effect a large number of people and community gardens are a great way to help a variety of people. Not only do they ease the burden of inconvenience but they can help reduce the cost to the consumer. Imagine cooking dinner and realizing that the produce you thought you had is now spoiled, or you weren’t thinking about picking up fruit or vegetables at the store and are just now realizing your mistake, you could just stroll down the street and grab a few zucchini’s or tomatoes from the community garden instead of forgoing the produce all together. Additionally, you could take one or two items at a time and come back as often as you need to prevent food from spoiling in your fridge.
I will say that increasing access to produce alone may not have a large impact on the community as a whole, but if it will make the difference in the lives of a few that’s another drop in the bucket to influencing the many. The main point is that it’s preposterous to think that people can take control of health by improving their diet when the underlying issues is that they don’t have access to food in the first place. Moreover, community gardens aren’t the end all be all to eradicating food deserts, but until we have larger players in place, like this proposed legislation by Virginia Senator Mark Warner, creating these gardens across our country, and raising awareness on what they offer is a small step that we can put in place today.