Everyone can benefit from access to fresh, healthy food.
“Food deserts” are areas where fresh fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed or whole foods are unavailable. Food deserts can exist in urban or rural areas and encompass large areas of many square miles. Usually food deserts exist in impoverished areas and opportunity zones, where gaps in the market deprive local residents of access to grocery stores, farmers markets or other retail outlets where they can purchase fresh food.
While the goal in anti-food desert strategies is primarily the health of local residents, their successful development can nevertheless lead to real economic development and genuine community development. With or without new business formation or increased sales taxes that can result from successfully restarted foodshed economies, the most impoverished communities can benefit from immeasurable gains in the unofficial, barter economy as residents build networks of resilient, local micro-production.
Foodshed development is a key driver in a healthfield strategy in both rural and urban communities. The presence of high food insecurity or food deserts and the lack of greenspace are determinants to community health. Simply greening lots and planting trees has been shown to reduce local incidences of depression by more than 50%. Activating acreage to food production and/or food-related commerce will help fill missing gaps in the foundation of a community’s health. Drawing a food desert map by layering on other data sets, such as incidence of infant mortality, asthma-related emergency room visits, diabetes and lead poisoning is often the first step towards reverse engineering a strategy to improve health outcomes in food deserts.
In general, foodshed development can play an important role in the cultural re-enrichment of a community, giving new meaning to community events and harvest festivals—and cultivating new opportunities for the community to share a local product, a common experience and perhaps a memorable moment.
Contact the BL Lab to schedule an introductory conversation about how to de-desertify your community and rebuild fresh food choices for local consumers.
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Growth in the number of Farmers Markets in the U.S. 1994-2017
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