A Different Kind of Desert: Food Deserts

It’s an issue that has plagued every major city around the world. Food deserts exist in every major city of the country, especially in low income neighborhoods.

What Are Food Deserts?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as urban neighborhoods and rural towns that do not have access to fresh, healthy, or affordable foods. These are areas that don’t have close-by grocery stores where you can buy food, but rather they have fast food restaurants and convenience stores where people buy their food.

These convenience stores, although affordable, don’t offer healthy alternatives but rather serve processed foods which are unhealthy for consumption. Because these areas don’t have access to healthy affordable foods, there has been a consistent rise in the incidence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.


A metaphorical depiction of a food desert. No fresh fruit for miles, yet fast food is but steps away. Image via Shirley Cannon.

Ceres, California: A Case Study

We see it more and more often that people in larger cities lack access to grocery stores or even transportation to get to a grocery store. Many individuals are forced to shop close to home, which means resorting to small fast food restaurants or gas stations as a means of purchasing food resources. Ceres, California is no different.

Ceres, known for its abundant harvests and small farms, is classified as a food desert by the USDA. Throughout Ceres there are large orchards and dairy farms including Marchy Dairy, Trinkler Dairy, and Double D Dairy. However, more than half of the town falls under the classification of a food deserts because residents don’t have access to appropriate transportation to markets where they could purchase fresh unprocessed foods.

According to the government census, the average per capita income for residents of Ceres is $19,051, putting them squarely under the poverty line.

What have residents of Ceres done to try to revitalize this food desert problem? One program initiated in Ceres is the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children (CPHC). The CPHC offers multiple programs to help introduce residents to healthier eating habits including nutritional workshops, food assistance, translation services, and a monthly Parent Café, which all promote child health and better nutrition.

What Have We Learned From Ceres?

Even after utilizing programs such as the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, it’s hard to get individuals to change their habits. For many, it’s easier to go into the small convenience stores and get sodas or processed foods than to travel several miles to a grocery store where they can purchase fresh healthy foods.

The biggest hurdle we’re facing as a nation is being able to change individuals’ perspectives on healthy foods and what they can do for the health and well-being of urban areas.

The real question is this: how many will be willing to change their ways, and how many will stay with the easier and cheaper method of eating?

Featured Image: USDA Defines Food Deserts. Image via American Nutrition Association.

About The Author

My name I Heather Sowalla. I have a passion for the environment starting from the time I was a young girl. I fell in love with hiking and fishing, even playing with bugs! As I grew older my passions began to develop into something that I could mold my education around. Starting with my undergrad degree I focused on fish and wildlife management which took me from central Pennsylvania the entire way to Alaska for an internship with the Student Conservation Association. After that I decided, due to health reasons, that I needed a change of pace and so I moved in a direction of sustainability, in particular agriculture and food security and now as I work through my internship - I plan on graduating in the Spring of 2015 with my Masters. What will I do after that? Well ... I'm not really sure. Maybe I will be the next great of the Environmental Era? Maybe not ... but I will do my best to try!