Map of the Week: Finding Food in a Desert
Minnesota may be in America's Breadbasket, but we still have 206 deserts, food deserts that is, which seems ironic for one of the nation's leading food processing states.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its Food Desert Locator, an interactive online tool that helps community leaders nationwide identify food deserts in their area. There are more than 6,500 nationwide.
A food desert is "an area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities," as defined by the 2008 Farm Bill.
The Locator classifies a "low-income community" as a census tract (a geographic sub-county region defined for the purpose of taking a census) with a poverty rate of ≥20% or a median family income at or below 80% of the area median family income.
It defines “limited access” as at least 500 people or at least 33% of a census tract residing more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas. This might not sound like a problem but imagine not owning a vehicle.
For instance, a low access rate of 80% means that 80% of the census tract's population has limited access to a supermarket or grocery store as defined by the USDA's parameters.
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Over 360,000 Minnesotans fall into the limited access category, according to the USDA.
In many cases, this limited access is concentrated. 52 census tracts have limited access rates over 90%, with 40 of these tracts experiencing 100% limited access.
Additionally, there are 12 census tracts in which at least 20% of the population is low-income and has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. Nine of these census tracts are in Hennepin or St. Louis County.
However, though food deserts are often regarded as urban ills, they afflict all types of communities.
Food deserts are found in 63 of Minnesota's counties, as shown in the locator map. In fact, nearly 54% of Minnesota’s food deserts are rural.
Clearly, this is a statewide issue.
An important piece of this puzzle is children's nutrition.
Over 90,000 Minnesota children have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store, according to the USDA. In some areas, the percentage of kids with limited access is as high as 46.5%.
Luckily, there has been some headway on the matter.
The First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, which sparked the development of the Food Desert Locator, seeks to not only combat childhood obesity but to also increase access to healthy and affordable foods, especially for Americans living in food deserts.
The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, and Health and Human Services have also taken the issue head-on, recommending the following policy interventions:
1. Financing healthy food retail outlets in food deserts.
2. Financing the production or distribution of healthy food in food deserts.
3. Financing strategies that promote or encourage the purchase of healthy foods.
Increasing access to healthy foods for Minnesota communities, educating families on healthy nutrition behaviors, and bringing community members to the table on the matter will only make Minnesota a healthier and more equitable state.
As Paul Wellstone knew, we all do better when we all do better.
Note: The following data come from the USDA's Food Desert Locator, which is based upon a 2009 report, Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences, and was released in May 2011. All store data come from a 2006 directory of stores, and all population data come from the 2000 U.S. Census. The data, however, reflect the USDA's most recent research on food deserts.