What Is… A Food Desert?

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“Food deserts, not to be confused with food desserts.”

Everyone loves a tasty dessert. I could name off a few, and your mouth would start watering.

For many communities in Arkansas, desserts (and other processed foods) are easy to find when you live in a food desert. Fruits and vegetables, not so much.

Food deserts are sneaky, you see, because of the many subtle factors that contribute to it.

The simple explanation

Grocery stores that sell produce do not exist in these areas. You will find general stores and small markets in gas stations, but supermarkets have chosen to leave or not set up shop there.

They exists in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, surprisingly enough. The residents of two of our downtown mobile-market locations have to travel a mile to get to a grocery store with fresh produce. Many of them are elderly or in wheelchairs, getting to the supermarket is difficult, to say the least.

How we know its a food desert

Food deserts are found by looking for the census tracts (divided into groups of about 4,000 people) with low income and low access to grocery stores.

Low income on a census tract (an area of about 4,000 people) is defined when at least 20% of the population is under the poverty line, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

An area with low access to food shows that 33% or more residents must travel a mile (in urban areas) or ten miles (in rural areas) to reach the nearest grocery store.

According to the USDA, 12.8% of the US population fit the low income/low access criteria.

More than 1 in 10 people!

We have an ongoing series called ‘Q&A Thursday’ where our executive director, Josh Harris, explains terms related to the food access system.

In this episode, Josh does some field reporting on the topic of food deserts at two of our downtown mobile-market locations.

Take a look.

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