Fight food deserts! 5 ways to combat food insecurity in your community

When we think about the fight for racial and economic justice, food doesn’t always surface to the top of the list of things to tackle. But it should! In fact, food insecurity is a key contributor to health disparities. And folks who experience food insecurity are often people with low-income and people of color. Since access to healthy food can influence mental and physical health, job security, and educational outcomes, it’s clear this is something we’ve got to overcome. You can play an important role in fighting food insecurity in your own community.

To help you get oriented in the food maze, here are a couple of working definitions and some how-to inspiration, courtesy of five ioby Leaders who have made it their business to improve the food scene where they live.

Food desert: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define food deserts as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet. Many Americans living in rural, minority, or low-income areas are subjected to food deserts and may be unable to access affordable, healthy foods, leaving their diets lacking essential nutrients.”

Food insecurity: The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion defines food insecurity as “the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources. In 2014, 17.4 million U.S. households were food insecure at some time during the year.”

How to fight food deserts! 5 ways to work for food justice in your community

Ways to combat food insecurity
Community gardeners at the SWAG Project, in Newark, New Jersey, raised over $6,000 to invest in their garden and more deeply involve their neighbors.

1. SWAG Project: Newark, New Jersey

How are they making an impact? By getting kids on board

SWAG is an urban farm, food justice, and community building project in Newark, New Jersey. For nearly 10 years, SWAG has worked to turn the tide against food deserts in New Jersey by educating neighborhood kids (and their parents) about urban agriculture, working as a community, and taking an active role in their health.

With ioby, SWAG raised over $6,000 to start collecting rainwater, build two new compost bins, put up a hoop house frame for germinating plants, and offer long-term internships to local high school and college students—all with the goal of improving the farm’s sustainability and self-sufficiency.

2. Deeply Rooted Produce Mobile Grocery Store: Detroit, Michigan

How are they making an impact? By bringing the food to the desert

Roughly 48 percent of Detroit households are food insecure. Deeply Rooted Produce, led by Dazmonique Carr, helps Detroiters take control of their health and food by offering nutrition education workshops, health assessments, and consultations with health professionals.

With ioby, Dazmonique raised close to $4,000 to purchase a van for Deeply Rooted’s mobile grocery store. The van will bring fresh, locally grown, affordable produce to the city’s food deserts so residents who can’t otherwise get to such food will have easier access.

Ways to combat food insecurity
Longtime neighbors in Macon, Georgia, are banding together to care for their own community and build Georgia’s first “agrihood” and fight their own food desert.

3. Georgia’s First Agrihood: Macon, Georgia

How are they making an impact? By using what’s already there

Asset-based community development is about taking stock of what a neighborhood has—not what it lacks—and building it up from those starting points. When Macon native Danny Glover got fed up with seeing grocery stores close and buildings shuttered in his once-vibrant neighborhood, he decided to revive its agricultural traditions by using what was still there: land, neighbors, and community spirit.

With ioby, Danny and his team raised over $3,500 to help repurpose 12 blighted parcels in Macon into five acres of fresh farmland—making it the region’s first “agrihood.” As Danny says, “Underneath the blight and overgrown brush occupying many vacated plots in the South, is well rested fertile soil ready to be developed into active farming and gardening space.”

4. Prospect Community Garden: Kansas City (Jackson County), Missouri

How are they making an impact? By growing for themselves what they can’t buy in stores

According to Kansas City Community Gardens (KCCG), 19 percent of residents in Jackson County are food-insecure. Thankfully, community gardening is an effective way of increasing access to and affordability of healthy food. KCCG supports over 450 garden sites throughout the Kansas City metro area; in 2016 alone, they helped 20,000 families grow half a million pounds of food.

With ioby, KCCG raised over $2,000 to expand Prospect Community Garden with the help of nearby Blue Hills Neighborhood Association and Blue Hills Community Services volunteers. Their garden improvement work days were followed by community workshops about gardening in raised beds, caring for fruit plants, and cooking with garden produce.

Ways to combat food insecurity
Cada Paso: The Next Step, in New York City, raised money to host walking tours that featured health resources in their neighborhood.

5. Five food security projects that are helping to revive and sustain communities: This nationwide grab bag of food justice initiatives shows how residents are making an impact by:

…establishing new local green markets (GrowNYC’s Greenmarket program in New York City)
…developing the next generation of food and social justice leaders (Community Services Unlimited in Los Angeles)
...leading walking tours of the neighborhood’s health resources (Cada Paso: The Next Step in New York City)
…and much more.

The realities of food deserts, food insecurity, and food justice will remain changing and complex. But we hope reading about what these ioby Leaders have been able to accomplish in their corners of the country will help you think imaginatively and act locally to fight for food justice where you live.

Already have an idea for a food-related project in your neighborhood? Tell us all about it! We can help you make it a reality.