According to USA.gov, about 13.5 million people in the U.S. live in food deserts. According to the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) Working Group, a food desert is defined as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store,” where low access is defined as “more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas and as more than 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store in rural areas.”
To help bring attention to this problem and find solutions, the National Center for Public Research (NCforPR) has named September Food Desert Awareness Month, The campaign focuses on “understanding the root causes of food deserts and on advancing emerging solutions.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established a “Food Desert Locator” to help identify these areas. Combatting the problem of food deserts has been an issue embraced by First Lady Michelle Obama, who has teamed with Wal-Mart and SuperValu stores, which have announced plans to open hundreds of stores in food deserts throughout the U.S. Both chains have committed to lowering their prices on fruits and vegetable prices to make them more affordable. SuperValu says they are training employees to help shoppers select and prepare fresh foods.
Whole Foods Market has also announced plans to triple its number of stores by opening locations in underserved and smaller markets. This spring, Whole Foods broke ground on a store in mid-town Detroit. They are also working with the mayors of Chicago and Newark to bring stores to areas of those cities with few if any grocery options for its residents.
A report earlier this year by Iowa Public Television noted that while both 82% of food deserts are in urban areas, low-income rural areas are impacted by the problem as well.
According to Assistant Professor Fritz Nordengren of Des Moines University, “The solution to food deserts has to include looking at the entire food system. Make sure there’s a place for everyone at the table. That there’s an opportunity for big ag to sit next to the small organic producers to sit next to distributing company, manager of grocery co-op. So they can’t point finger at each other for blame, but they have to work together for solutions.”