by Slow Food USA staffer Julia DeMartini Day
While the United Nations discusses desertification in drought-plagued areas of the developing world, an article in Monday's NY Times brought our attention to deserts that exist right here in our fertile, developed nation: food deserts.
Food deserts are neighborhoods with inadequate access to fresh food; in many neighborhoods with a large population of people living on low incomes, it is extremely difficult to buy fruits and vegetables – many people end up taking buses to stores, cabs home, or buying what is nearby, often fast food and non perishable items from corner stores or liquor stores.
Websites like foodmapper visually show the prohibitions to eating not just local food, but also fresh food in general, and illustrate how lack of access is tied to increased health problems, like diabetes and obesity.
In a place like NYC, this lack of access seems particularly crazy when many wealthy neighborhoods have ample places to buy produce - For example, at the corner of 110th and Broadway there is both a D'agostinos and a Westside Market - literally right across the street from each other.
For many residents of communities lacking stores with fresh produce, the challenge to eat fresh food is well understood. As a way to illustrate the inadequate access and to educate neighborhood residents about how to improve this, many community organizations have created a way to do neighborhood assessments of the food available – often called Community Food Assessments. Sometimes the information collected can help be the launching pad for community projects like gardens.
Gardens like the ones discussed in yesterday's NY Times about food deserts where community residents have turned to agriculture–not just gardens for personal use, but gardens large enough to have a yield that can be sold to neighbors and members of the community.
From the article: "It's not about making money," Ms. Washington said. "We're selling so that
people in our neighborhood have good quality. There's no Whole Foods in my
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