Friday, June 10, 2011

Innovative Strategies for Bringing Healthy, Affordable Food to Urban and Rural Food Deserts

Food security and access to healthy, affordable foods are critical to child and family health and well-being, but many American families face significant barriers to both.

According to the Food Action and Research Center (FRAC), in 2009, 17.7 million people lived in U.S. households that were considered to have “very low food security,” a USDA term that means one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. Black (24.9 percent) and Hispanic (26.9 percent) households experienced food insecurity at far higher rates than the national average. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that food costs have risen by 3.9 percent from April 2010 to April 2011; based on the minimum wage of $7.25, it would take 84 hours to earn enough to cover the current cost of a minimally adequate diet of the least expensive market basket of foods. GOOD recently highlighted an interactive infographic from The Guardian Data Blog that charts the significant changes in food prices internationally over the last decade using U.N. monthly food reports.

This week, GOOD profiled two innovative initiatives to address food insecurity and lack of access to healthy, affordable foods: urban green carts and rural mobile groceries. New York City’s Green Carts are mobile food carts that sell fresh fruits and vegetables in the city’s food deserts. The program, enacted in 2008 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and funded by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, provides micro-loans and technical assistance to Green Cart operators and branding, marketing and outreach to encourage residents of the Green Cart areas to purchase fresh produce from the carts. Currently, more than 400 carts operate in the city. Mogro, a new mobile grocery store in converted beverage trucks, provides an interesting model for bringing fresh produce and affordable food to rural food deserts. Partnering with the Center for American Indian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to offer cooking classes and nutrition events, the mobile grocer aims to eliminate food deserts in New Mexico, beginning with the Native American community of Santo Domingo Pueblo.

State policymakers can encourage and fund such innovative initiatives to make healthy food more affordable and accessible to families in food deserts. Visit PolicyForResults to learn more about strategies for increasing access to healthy, affordable foods and improving food assistance.

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