Big Ideas: Building a Food Desert Oasis
For millions of Americans who find themselves in food deserts, getting their daily apple is tougher than usual. The USDA defines a food desert as an impoverished region of the country where thousands of people can't regularly access healthy, affordable, and organic foods due to lack of grocery stores, farmers' markets, and personal transportation. And the constant availability of fast food restaurants in these food deserts certainly doesn't help America's rampant obesity epidemic.
U.S. cities lacking in fresh fruits and veggies aren't limited to the big city expanses of Los Angeles, Oakland, Detroit, or Chicago; in fact many small towns in the heart of the nation suffer just as much from lack of fresh greens.
Here are some big ideas for providing resources to help food desert dwellers around the nation enjoy the taste and benefits of farm-fresh produce.
100 Yards of Harvest After having to sack its football program due to low enrollment, Paul Quinn College, a small liberal arts college near Dallas, Texas, transformed their vestigial football field into a huge farm. Today, staff and students (and in collaboration with PepsiCo Inc.) at Paul Quinn cultivate the WE Over ME Farm, growing collard greens, heirloom tomatoes, swiss chard, mustard greens, and more. The cornucopia of food harvested from the farm is then distributed to local charities, grocery stores, community markets in surrounding Dallas, and the college students, who get to enjoy the fruits of their hard work.
Mobile Markets Some 550,000 Detroit residents suffer from an imbalance of healthy food options — grocery stores are few and far between compared to fast food restaurants. Mobile food co-ops that bring the farm to the city, like Detroit's Peaches & Greens, go the extra mile in ensuring people get the foods they need at affordable prices. And in California's rural valleys, California's Second Harvest Food Bank exists to travel 63 sites throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
Urban Aggies It's not "Green Acres" on 5th Avenue, but it's close. Urban farming initiatives are on the rise, educating and empowering big-city communities to grow their own produce. City Slicker Farms of West Oakland organizes and encourages folks like Abeni Ramsey to start up independent urban farming enterprises of their own. And in Chicago's South Side, Iron Street Farm provides seven acres of farmland to the community.
Photo by Paul Quinn College/ WE Over ME Farm
J. Scott Donahue is an editorial intern at Sierra. He was a freshman in Mr. Hancock's English class when he first read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Now, he's currently working on a graduate thesis composed of travel essays. Topics include substitute teaching kindergartners in Nepal, drinking rice beer with a Tibetan porter, and running a marathon from Everest Base Camp.