Creating an Oasis in a Food Desert
A food desert – what’s that??
A food desert is an area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. Over 23.5 million people in the United States live in food deserts. Must you be poor to live in a food desert? No. Half of those living in food deserts are low income, which means half are not. Many more people live in food swamps – where they have plenty of food but none of it healthy.
Relative to other areas, food deserts are more likely to have:
· Smaller populations
· Lower levels of education among residents
· Higher unemployment rates
· Higher rates of vacant homes
· Higher concentrations of minority residents
The biggest health concern linked to food deserts is, ironically, obesity. Unhealthy eating habits lead to weight gain, and that, in turn, leads to obesity. And being significantly overweight or obese increases a person’s risk for all kinds of health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
Tucumcari has often been classified as a food desert.
We do have food here, but very little of it has been grown here. Very little of it is organic, and often the freshness is questionable. It is trucked in from elsewhere -- often far away, making us vulnerable to transportation issues, shortages in other places, conditions out of our control. And, as food comes in, most of our food dollars leave our community. Probably sounds familiar to most of rural America.
Okay, so if there are food deserts, what is a food oasis?
A food oasis can be defined as any place where people have the best possible access to healthy options and eating environments.
Efforts are being made in our community to change our food desert into a food oasis. What efforts, you ask?
For starters, we’re growing more of our own food.
· Our summer Farmers’ Market is expanding with more farmers bringing produce and meat to the market each year. This is locally grown food available to our community!
· Greenhouse growing is increasing so that local fresh produce can be accessed year round.
And we’re creating an atmosphere to promote locally grown produce - including vegies, meat, and value added products.
· A Food Co-op has been formed to help and encourage farmers (with particular emphasis on beginning farmers), to collaborate on marketing possibilities, all while helping to ensure our community -- plus our surrounding communities -- enjoy fresh food possibilities.
· The health of our soils is being discussed at quarterly meetings of the Conversations About Soil Health (C.A.S.H.) group.
· Conversations at the Farmers’ Market and other gatherings are showing a growing knowledge in our community of what healthy food is and what it does for us, and how much we want it here.
· Even our one grocery store has increased its selection of organic food offerings.
Can we succeed in creating a food oasis from a food desert?
We believe so!