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Better Health for Food Deserts: Are Mobile Farmers Markets the Answer?

Farmers markets on wheels may just be the new trend to solve the lack of nutritious, fresh food in food deserts around the nation.

An innovative way to tackle the obesity epidemic comes on four wheels, as mobile farmers' markets are working to solve the lack of nutritious, fresh food in food deserts around the nation.

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Voices From a Food Desert: Bayview-Hunters Point, San Francisco, CA

voices from a food desert in a San Francisco neighborhood


By most measures, San Francisco is experiencing boom times. According to the 2010 U.S. Census median household income is $72,947, and it ranks fourth in the country for highest cost of living. But San Francisco’s bounty is not distributed evenly, and this disparity is apparent as you cross Highway 101 into the section of the city known as Bayview-Hunters Point. This four-square mile corner in the southeastern part of San Francisco has a median household income of $46,025,with one in five individuals living below poverty level. More pointedly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified this slice of the city as a food desert, which are defined as low income areas with limited access to healthy, affordable foods.

This designation doesn’t mean that residents of Bayview-Hunters Point can’t find local restaurant and markets. On Third Street, the area’s main commercial strip, there is a Taco Bell/KFC combo, a McDonald’s and Walgreens; at Third and Donner Avenue, there’s a recent and welcome addition: Fresh & Easy, a chain grocery store that sells fresh produce. So it’s clear that the term food desert doesn’t paint a complete picture of this food landscape.

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This three-part series on food deserts is brought to you by GOOD with the support of Naked Juice

The Woodlawn section of Chicago’s South Side is not technically one of the city’s 23 neighborhoods designated as a food desert. However, those who live in the neighborhood, where more than 30 percent of households live below the poverty level, will tell you a different story: the grocery stores that are within walking distance do not have fresh fruits and vegetables.The few that do may not be affordable, and it’s just as difficult to get healthy produce as it is in South Side neighborhoods, which are officially designated food deserts by the USDA. “My husband and I had been living in the neighborhood for 20 years, and we couldn’t find any stores that carried fresh produce to shop at,” says Connie Spreen, executive director of Experimental Station, a cultural community group in the neighborhood.

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Swapping Hot Cheetos for Whole Wheat Bread: A Corner Store Redesign

In Philadelphia, the poorest and most obese big city in the nation, nearly half the kids in low-income neighborhoods shop at corner stores twice...

In Philadelphia, the poorest and most obese big city in the nation, nearly half the kids in low-income neighborhoods shop at corner stores twice a day. Researchers found that kids spent about a dollar and consumed roughly 340 calories at each visit, typically in the form of soda, chips, and candy. That’s 700 calories worth of junk, every day, five days a week.

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A crowd of Birmingham residents gathered at a community college parking lot in 2011 to welcome a new sight to the neighborhood: fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. While the mayor and other local leaders delivered speeches, shoppers browsed tables piled high with collard greens, okra, peaches, green beans, melons—produce grown less than 100 miles away but seldom seen in local food stores.
This volunteer-led Southwest Fresh Market is part of an ambitious plan initiated by REV Birmingham, a nonprofit working with local government, business, and community partners to find solutions to a common challenge: how to connect urban, often low-income residents with small farmers looking to boost sales. Making the link is a “win-win,” says Andy Williams, one of the growers at the Southwest Fresh Market. “The farmer gets a guaranteed base of consumers, and the neighborhood gets good food and local jobs. Right now it’s a missed opportunity.”
Birmingham has seen grocery stores shut their doors in recent decades, as big box retailers on the outskirts of the city have become the norm. Today, many of the city’s food stores are restaurants and small corner stores that mostly sell packaged, frozen, and prepared foods. A recent survey found that more than 40 percent of Birmingham residents live in areas defined as “food deserts,” neighborhoods with extremely limited access to grocery stores selling healthy food.

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Beyond the Food Desert: Why We Can't Get Healthy Foods in Poor Communities

Two new studies challenge the existence of "food deserts"—but the link between poverty and obesity runs deeper.

It’s a long-accepted principle in the sustainable food world that folks living in food deserts—areas bereft of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other nutritious food sources—are more likely to be obese. Because food desert residents lack access to healthy food purveyors, they’re forced to buy meals from neighborhood businesses—mainly fast-food joints and corner stores. All that fried fare and processed junk makes diets hard to balance.

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