What is a food desert? (desert, not dessert) It is a relatively new term that originated in the early 1990s but has become more mainstream in recent years. According to the USDA, a food desert is a Census tract (areas of land with 2,500 to 8,000 residents) where 33 percent or 500 people, whichever is less, live more than a mile from a grocery store in an urban area or 10 miles in a rural area. Additionally, 20 percent of residents must make less than $22,350, the federal poverty line.

Food deserts are often located in either very urban areas or extremely remote rural areas, mostly in the Great Plains. Oftentimes, residents in food deserts lack transportation, or their only food options are small convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Sometimes even if there is a grocery store, it lacks fresh fruits and vegetables, or they are too expensive for many people to purchase. The lack of these and other healthy food items has been linked to obesity in some urban areas.

The good news is there are many ongoing efforts to make food deserts a thing of the past. In many urban areas, city health departments and nonprofit organizations are providing opportunities for local fresh food to be brought in from farms and distributed, allowing people to order food from places like libraries and schools. Many of these programs are increasing traffic to businesses and creating sales for local produce farmers.

Efforts in rural areas are not as evident. Larger geographical areas make for a harder time distributing food. One program assisting rural communities is in central Iowa where customers order food and then pick up their fresh food at a church on a specific day of the week. It is amazing that there are areas like food deserts existing in industrialized countries, and it is important for all people to have a chance to purchase healthy food for their families, including dairy products. For more info on food deserts, check out this article.