A food desert is an area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities.
Use the U.S. Department of Agricultures Food Desert Locator to see a map of food deserts in America.
Find a CSA
Community-supported agriculture is a network that brings fresh produce from local farms to consumers. Find a CSA farm near you at LocalHarvest.org
By Caitlin MacNeal
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
New discoveries and technological breakthroughs are made every year. Yet, as the information sector moves forward, many people in society are looking back to their roots in terms of the way they eat.
A “locavore” movement has emerged in the United States. The locavore movement supports eating foods grown locally and sustainably, rather than pre-packaged foods shipped from other parts of the world.
Experts debate the merits and consequences of eating local, as well as the trend’s staying power.
Erin Barnett is the director of Local Harvest, a company that aims to help connect people to farms in their area. By eating local, she argues, people have a better, more personal understanding of the impact their food consumption has on the rest of the world.
“There is a way of connecting the dots, where eating locally is an act that . . . tightens our awareness around our sense of place,” says Barnett.
Agriculture in the U.S.
The United States’ agricultural output is one of the highest in the world, says Timothy Beach, a professor of geography and geoscience at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“There’s just no other place on Earth where the amount of input is so productive,” Beach says of American agriculture. “Nobody can cut off a food we need.”
However, the U.S. food system is not sustainable because of its dependency on fossil fuels, says Beach. Equipment used on “tremendously productive” farms is quickly depleting the Earth’s natural resources, particularly petroleum. Additionally, production of agricultural supplements such as fertilizer uses large amounts of energy.
The world has used close to half of the global petroleum supply, he says, and the second half will be depleted at an even faster rate because of growing population and economic development. There is “no way on Earth we are using [fossil fuels] sustainably,” he says.
Although many businesses are experimenting with wind, solar, and biofuel, Beach says there is no substitute for petroleum.
“There’s nothing that we see on the horizon that can replace it,” he says.
A Shift Toward Sustainability
Louise Keckler, a farmer, believes the push for sustainability should not come from politicians, but from farmers.
Keckler and her husband, Gregg, own Orchard Country Produce, a farm in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The farm provides food for community-supported agriculture (CSA), a network that brings fresh produce from local farms to consumers. As part of a CSA network, a customer regularly receives fruits or vegetables that are in season.
Eating fresh food from local farms that practice sustainable agriculture has multiple benefits. The nutritional value is evident, Beach says.
“It’s a healthy thing individually for Americans,” he says, citing the fact that overconsumption and obesity are on the rise in the U.S. and in Europe.
Barnett points out that eating local—for example, by participating in a CSA—contextualizes food. It helps educate people about the potential effects of global warming on food production. By understanding how climate and weather patterns affect what we eat, we realize the impact our choices have on the land around us, she says.
“That non-anonymity, the personal-ness and the intimacy that eating local can create in our lives, can only help us as we begin to face the climate changes,” Barnett says.
Fad, Trend, or Revolution?
There is some debate about whether eating local is a sustainable solution to an unsustainable system.
“If it’s a wedge of health and food education, then it’s obviously a good thing,” says Beach.
He is not sure if the locavore movement is a fad or a revolution. Whatever the case, he believes the U.S. could still feed the country without the large-input system currently in place.
“I think we could feed ourselves on fully sustainable agriculture,” he says.
“I would call it a trend versus a fad,” says Barnett. “I think that we are in the process of returning to a way of eating that is much more congruent with who our species is.”
Says Keckler: “I think that it’s becoming a way of life for a lot of people. It is more about people coming back to their roots.”
Keckler says the locavore movement is also a revelation for farmers: “You don’t have to have hundreds and hundreds of acres to make a living.”
In fact, you don’t even need a farm. As the locavore trend becomes more popular, people are providing their own fresh, local produce.
“No matter how much space you have,” says Kirk Wilbur, “you still have enough room to grow some food.”
Wilbur is a product developer at Urban Sustainable, a store in Washington, D.C., that provides city residents with a place to buy seeds and farming equipment. The demand for such products is high, he says.
“The response has just been overwhelming,” he says of the store’s first seven months in D.C.
Gardening at home is a more affordable option for those who wish to eat locally grown foods, Wilbur says. For instance, the seeds and soil needed to grow tomato plants cost a fraction of the price of tomatoes in the grocery store.
“It’s extremely cost-effective right now,” he says. “The biggest cost is your time.”
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry agricultural output Noun
total amount of goods produced in the agricultural industry.
the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).
Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture anonymity Noun
position of not having a known name or identity.
energy source derived directly from organic matter, such as plants.
large settlement with a high population density.
all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.
Encyclopedic Entry: climate climate change Noun
gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.
Encyclopedic Entry: climate change congruent Adjective
agreeing with or complementary to.
result or outcome of an action or situation.
person who uses a good or service.
to put an idea into a set of historic, geographic, or other circumstances (context).
(community-supported agriculture) system where people buy into a local farm and receive seasonal produce in return.
to use up.
economic development Noun
rise in the standard of living of a community, including jobs, health care, and educational opportunities for residents.
to develop or come into view.
tools and materials to perform a task or function.
land cultivated for crops, livestock, or both.
person who cultivates land and raises crops.
nutrient-rich chemical substance (natural or manmade) applied to soil to encourage plant growth.
material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.
Encyclopedic Entry: food food system Noun
connected processes involved in growing and distributing food to a population.
fossil fuel Noun
coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
Encyclopedic Entry: geography geoscience Noun
branches of study that focus on the origin and structure of the Earth. Also called Earth science.
global warming Noun
increase in the average temperature of the Earth's air and oceans.
Encyclopedic Entry: global warming information sector Noun
part of the larger service sector of an economy, based on the exchange of knowledge and ideas.
something that is contributed, or put in, to something else.
close, familiar relationship.
person who prefers to buy and eat food that has been raised or grown locally.
something that deserves a benefit, reward, or recognition.
natural resource Noun
a material that humans take from the natural environment to survive, to satisfy their needs, or to trade with others.
medical condition where excess body fat increases risk for disease and death.
fossil fuel formed from the remains of ancient organisms. Also called crude oil.
person who serves as a representative of the citizens of a geographic area to the local, state, or national government.
agricultural products such as vegetables and fruits.
something that is revealed, often in a surprising manner.
part of a plant from which a new plant grows.
having to do with the sun.
to increase or add to.
able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.
weather pattern Noun
repeating or predictable changes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as winds, precipitation, and temperatures.
movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.