Four Community Initiatives For Urban Food Deserts, When Supermarkets Fail

Illustration by george bates

Low-income urban areas are frequently declared "food deserts"—areas lacking access to supermarkets and nutritious food, requiring intervention from urban planners. One such effort in New York is the subject of The Apple Pushers, directed by Mary Mazzio and narrated by Edward Norton. The documentary screens in New York this month, but the city isn't the only one working to solve the problem.

New York

The Green Carts initiative funds microloans and provides technical, branding, and marketing support for street-vendor entrepreneurs serving neighborhoods with minimal access to produce. Green Carts vendors—many of whom are immigrants—may sell only raw fruits and vegetables. The program launched in 2008, and according to the Department of Health, 23% more residents are consuming five daily servings of the healthy foods.

Seattle

As part of P-Patch, Seattle's community-garden initiative, the Market Garden Program creates community-supported agriculture farms. Residents have access to plots of up to 8,000 square feet in public housing communities, where they are free to cultivate their crops and sell them on-site (food stamps are accepted). In 2011, the program provided produce to 50 households.

Baltimore

Food stamps can't be used to buy groceries from most online markets. To offer an alternative, Baltimore's health department has teamed up with a local supermarket chain, the public library system, and the housing authority. Customers now can visit their local library or a public housing building to, with assistance, order food over the Internet. Groceries are delivered to that location, and food stamps are always accepted.

Louisville, Kentucky

In West Louisville, Youth Advocates conducts neighborhood surveys to collect data about produce consumption, as well as food and shopping preferences. A recent grant from the Conference of Mayors will help the teens plant and maintain community gardens, which, in addition to creating summer jobs, will supply vegetables to local corner stores.

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