Food Deserts and Food Forests

The USDA defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers” . Michigan State University has a similar definition, adding in that the same area with limited access to fresh/healthy food has 20% of the population living below the poverty line. Being able to access fresh food can be incredibly difficult, whether that be through lack of transportation, stores not being close by, or lack of time or money to buy fresh food.

Food deserts are areas in which accessing fresh food is incredibly difficult. The below map highlights where people live in food deserts and the USDA has a larger and interactive version of this map.


Ron Finley gave a TED Talks about being a guerrilla gardener in South Central LA, speaking about living in a food desert and planting gardens in vacant lots.

Food forests are similar to what Finley discusses, have started in several cities, including Seattle and Austin and in the case of the two cities mentioned, might have city support behind them. These forests are, as far as I can tell, run by some community members. But there are some who aren’t that fond of food forests, including Toi who wrote a piece on Black Girl Dangerous called “Frankly Not About Food Forests“. Toi brings up incredibly valid criticisms of food forests and I highly recommend reading what they wrote.

It’s important to remember that while trying to address food deserts and issues surrounding food, you can’t just bulldoze past the people you’re trying to serve.