Imagine having to walk more than 20 minutes to buy some fruit. This is almost reality 40% of the US population living in food deserts.
As currently defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, a food desert is an urban area where you have to travel more than 1 mile to find a grocery store that sells healthy food. And while the term “desert” implies someone wandering through a barren landscape, food deserts are neighborhoods where socially disadvantaged people live with little access to fresh and healthy produce.
“Because of physical barriers, monetary barriers, social barriers, people in food deserts are unable to get nutritious food and are stuck eating foods that are not as nutritious as fast food,” said Dani Ironspoon, of who has a PhD in Public Health.
In many of these countries, there are no supermarkets and no other types of shops where you can buy fruit, vegetables or fish. Micanopy appears to be one of them, according to Micanopy resident Shawna Tramonatno.
“Living in Micanopy is almost 30 minutes to any good produce,” she said.
Nathaniel Ray has lived in Micanopy for three years and said he has to drive 15 minutes from where he lives to get to the nearest Publix in Gainesville.
“There are several restaurants here. But for people trying to save money or make their own food, there is, there is nothing here. It’s like three gas stations where you can get canned goods and maybe like eggs and milk,” Ray said.
According to Ray, Micanopy residents can buy local eggs from people who have chickens in their backyard.
“There are a few farms here and there. But it’s not like you really have to, like go out of your way to source things,” Ray said.
Micanopy isn’t the only rural community going through this food desert. Camesha Tate worked at Brooker and felt she needed more fresh food.
“I’ve worked in Brooker and lived in Alachua and I feel like there are some serious lost areas. I feel like the 441 should have more fresh food available,” Tate said. “College students are inundated with excess, and the rest of the city lives differently, depending on their socioeconomic status. Although affordable living it’s almost a joke here to a lot of people. I can only imagine how scarce things are after the 382 exit.”
What abounds in these areas are fast food or convenience stores, where most foods are ultra-processed and high in unsaturated fats, salt, and sugar.
As someone who has studied public health, Ironspoon said food deserts also affect people’s health.
“People who are struggling economically may not be able to buy fresh vegetables, fresh fish, meat and chicken. And instead they can buy fish sticks, which aren’t terrible, but aren’t as good for you. And canned vegetables because they’re a lot cheaper, but they’re higher in salts,” Ironspoon said.
This affects the ability to choose and access healthy food and translates into communities with a higher prevalence of obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, according to Ironspoon.
This panorama becomes even more complicated if you take into account the increase in the prices of basic foods, such as eggs and milk, as well as the constant increase in the price of gasoline.
“If the cost of petrol goes up, a family has to travel miles and miles to get their food. It’s going to affect them and maybe they won’t go as often, or they’ll cut down on the amount of food they can buy because they have to pay for gas,” Ironspoon said.
Brian Jones is working on a business to try to solve this problem locally.
“The reason I wanted to do this was basically because of the cooling issues in the community,” Jones said. “But the general idea would be to help ensure more sustainable produce, greens and fruit.”
Food deserts also cause economic problems in families.
Jones’ company is Terra Harvest. He says the company will eventually be an urbanized aeroponics company that will produce a variety of greens, fruits, micro greens and mushrooms.
“Recently I tried to get funding, but with most business loans you need significant capital to secure the loan. So I decided to start very small to gain traction to make it work,” Jones said.
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