The FAMCare Blog

A Deeper Look at Urban "Food Deserts"

Posted by GVT Admin on Oct 16, 2018 5:01:54 PM

urban food desert gas station

In this new dystopian world of negative and divisive political discourse, we find it refreshing to seek out and report on the positive, uniting energy of the mission-centric nonprofit “other-world” we inhabit with our colleagues across the country.

Food Deserts

As the leader of the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, Holly Freishtat has spent the last few years collaborating with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future to find ways to make systemic changes in the growth of urban “food deserts” in Baltimore.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as “parts of the country usually found in impoverished urban areas, vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” 

Freishtat is working to change the perception of undernourishment in impoverished urban areas beginning with the designation “food deserts”. Although it may seem trivial in the face of the bigger problem, Freishtat insists that the title is misleading enough to discourage activist concern. We have been hearing from advocates and residents that the term ‘food desert’ implies that urban undernourishment is a naturally occurring event when nothing could be further from the truth. It’s an evolving, negative social condition that needs correction.

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health has been working on these pockets of urban undernourishment for quite some time. “Our work is driven by the concept that public health, diet, food production and the environment are deeply interrelated and that understanding these relationships is crucial in pursuing a livable future.”

4 Areas of Interest

Johns Hopkins has segmented urban undernourishment research into four distinct areas of interest:

  1. crate of applesFood System Policy – The Center for a Livable Future website explains: The food system spans the activities, people and resources involved in getting food from field to plate, from agriculture through nutrition and beyond. Along the way, it intersects with aspects of public health, culture, society, policy and the environment. Widespread problems such as chronic illness, infectious disease, social inequality, animal suffering, environmental degradation and the concentration of economic power have ties to the food system. 
  2. food production tractor seatFood Production - In many developed countries, young people from farming families continue to leave the farm, and older farmers find themselves without a successor. Across the US only 5.7 percent of farmers are under the age of 35. So, the question remains: who will run the farms of the future? Will the food system continue to consolidate into larger farms, staffed by robots, and managed by GPS? Or will a new generation move toward a small-scale, diversified and localized food system? 
  3. more healthy foodFood Communities – The Center’s Food communities and Public Health program focuses on developing relationships with communities to improve food environments, increase access to healthy food and inform food and nutrition policy.
  4. vegetables-1666632_640Food System Sustainability – Our long-term food security is under increasing stress. A convergence of issues – climate change, resource depletion, dysfunctional farm policies and loss of biodiversity, now threaten the availability of healthy food for an ever-increasing population.

Wake Up Call

Because our country has always been blessed with abundant natural resources most fortunate people rarely think about “urban food deserts” or even that nutritional food could be in short supply. However, dedicated professionals like Holly Freishtat in collaboration with Johns Hopkins are shining a light on a lurking social problem that has implications across the entire food supply system. Noticing the “good news” of their collaboration refreshes our spirit and inspires us to carry on.


Topics: Nonprofit General, nonprofit sustainability, human services

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