A flower in the desert: community gardening is an alternative to “food deserts”

Growing food locally can be the best alternative to separate food deserts created by corporations. This garden in New York shows the beauty of community in action. Photo credit: Jim.henderson

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of healthy living and eating.

Yet access to fresh produce and healthier foods is not equal across the board, and many communities have been labeled “food deserts” due to their lack of affordable and available quality foods.

Lower-income neighborhoods (usually predominantly black and brown) often lack supermarkets with higher quality produce and instead are filled with highly processed junk food and fast food chain restaurants.

A kind of food segregation keeps Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts in wealthy, white neighborhoods.

This lack of availability of healthy options forces people to take home anything that is near or cheap, even if it is unhealthy.

Obesity and diabetes rates, driven by poor diets, are rising across the board, but poor communities do not have easy or cheap access to health care to combat these increases.

These communities have to feed their families and cannot afford to go further into supermarkets that sell organic products or gluten-free alternatives.

We need to change the availability and accessibility of local farmers’ markets and grocery stores that sell these products not just for health, but for overall environmental change.

Perhaps partnering with local family businesses can provide affordable fresh food options for people living in food deserts.

This will not only help low-income communities, but also older generations who only depend on a certain amount of their pension or social security checks to live from day to day.

These people may need to prioritize whether to spend more money on groceries or medications.

With accessibility to healthier foods and products, people will have a better chance against health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and other conditions that stem from an unhealthy lifestyle.

The inability to access healthy foods from these locally grown markets leads to poor health among Americans in general, but especially in poorer communities.

Due to the predicament that many Americans find themselves in, they have no choice but to eat from our current harmful industrial agricultural markets that are causing these health crises.

If you’ve ever purchased non-organic fruits in a package (like strawberries) at your local grocery store, you’ve probably noticed that some fruits are larger than others.

These fruits are the result of our industry not caring about what its consumers eat.

The vegetables that are produced by current farming practices are mixed with chemical fertilizers to produce more and more, bigger and bigger.

This type of method ultimately leads to less nutritional value in vegetables and fruits and can encourage diseases to simmer within their populations.

The nutrition in our natural sweets and fresh, earthy greens is important to our health because they contain many vitamins and minerals that reduce harmful risk factors that cause chronic disease or heart disease.

Instead of natural and sustainable farming practices, crops are sprayed with pesticides, which we ingest, further endangering our health.

Our plants are not the only ones being attacked by the industrial agricultural system. The meat that many Americans eat contains harmful chemicals that pose risks.

Instead of being fed the grass and natural foods the animals are supposed to eat, they are injected with hormones, crammed into disease-ridden pens, and fed pesticide-injected corn and grain.

The majority of corn produced in the United States is used to feed animals that are raised only for slaughter.

The multi-billion dollar agribusiness does not care about the health of its consumers. It, and the rest of our economy, capitalizes on people’s illness in other ways, like private health care or the ridiculous industry-backed diets that promote it.

What is the substitute for corporate agriculture and segregated food deserts?

One option is a return to what humans have done (and still do in the world) for all of history: local food production.

Community gardens, backyard agriculture, and collective food banks can be a community-driven alternative to corporate food options.

Instead of buying unhealthy fast food or paying billionaires to eat in their overcrowded supermarkets, communities should consider locally operated and collectively managed gardens that grow healthy produce options that can be provided for free.

Volunteers can plant and pick vegetables and fruits for consumption, as well as things like flowers or natural herbal medicines to make healthy teas or drinks instead of sugary ones.

Since a community garden may require open land that some areas may not have, a community food bank that stocks produce grown by individuals in their homes or backyards can allow people to use their produce surplus and feed those around them.

This local food production would ideally be managed by the community and devoid of any profit motive. Groups like Food Not Bombs already operate in an anti-capitalist model of food distribution that could easily be aided by a comparable community food project.

In a country where tons and tons of food is thrown away instead of distributed, health crises run wild and access to food is limited by what you have in your wallet, a locally run free alternative would be a powerful and healthy change of rhythm.