With the Department of Agriculture’s new Food Desert Locator, anyone can find the food deserts near them. But what does that mean?
People who live in a food desert (all of the areas shaded in bright green in the above map are considered food deserts) don't have easy access to fresh produce, healthy grains, low-fat dairy and other nutritionally sound whole foods. When you take a look at the map — which looks at census tract-level statistics on population groups with low access to healthy foods — you might be surprised at the location of some of these deserts. Some of them are located in the heart of heavily farmed areas.
All of this statistical information is interesting, but what good is to the average person? First of all, it’s an eye-opener. When I looked at my region in South Jersey, I was surprised to see that in Cumberland County where there are many farms, there are also food deserts. The food from those farms doesn’t make it to the low-income people who frequently don’t have the transportation to get to the better grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside farm stands that may only be a few miles away.
It’s also interesting, but not surprising, to see that Atlantic City, New Jersey, is a food desert. While many of the casinos boast farm-to-fork restaurants, the people who live right outside the casino’s doors don’t have access to that same local, farm-fresh food.
Taking a look at where the food deserts are in your region can help you understand how unevenly distributed healthy food is. Perhaps it will motivate you to find a way to help. I’ve already been in touch with The Food Bank of South Jersey to find out how to donate fresh produce, and I hope to work with them this summer to get the word out to others in my region about how to do so.
According to Eat.Drink.Better, the map can also be helpful for community planning. Community officials can know where to offer tax incentives for grocery stores to build. Farmers and market gardeners can also find areas that are in need of their fresh produce.