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Rural Food Deserts

Rural Food Deserts

Among those working to improve access to healthy food for underserved communities, the term “food desert” is frequently used to describe urban areas without grocery stores or other sources of nutritious, whole foods.  Food insecurity is a significant problem in these areas.  Residents often resort to purchasing groceries from corner stores or liquor stores, where the options are largely processed and contain harmful, artificial ingredients and are in corn syrup, saturated fat, and salt.  The health gap between those in underserved, urban communities and those living in wealthier suburbs is largely the result of urban food insecurity, as well as a lack of affordable healthcare for those in low-income communities.

However, a form of food desert often exists in small, rural towns as well.  This is a problem that is often overlooked in conversations about food access and food justice.  Ironically, many residents of mid-America towns located in the bread basket of the country – towns surrounded by farms – find it difficult to locate sources of whole, organic foods.  In these towns, it is not always easy to find meat or dairy products from animals not treated with hormones, or produce not grown with pesticides.

As someone who has family in a small town in Ohio, I have witnessed firsthand how challenging it is to find clean foods for local residents.  To be sure, the situation in these towns may not be as drastic as that in rural food deserts.  At least many of these small towns have a grocery store.  But usually, large, commercial grocery stores carry many more packaged, processed products than whole foods.  And the whole foods they carry are often tainted with hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.

It seems that many health food store owners feel that healthy food is the province of wealthy urbanites and suburbanites living near large, metropolitan areas.  This is certainly the case with chains like Whole Foods.  From personal experience, I know there is a demand for natural, whole foods in rural areas, but that need is going unmet.

One solution is for rural residents to petition Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and similar chains to let them know the would like a store in their area.  Or better yet – perhaps more rural residents will meet the local need by opening their own stores.

But there is a third option.  Many of these rural towns are in close proximity to a number of farms.  While many of those farms grow produce – mostly corn – or raise animals for use in the corporate food system, there are likely some smaller farms in the area, as well.  Perhaps local residents could work together with local farmers to establish CSA’s or open new farmers’ markets.  This option would have the lowest carbon footprint and would provide healthy food to rural residents while bypassing the commercial corporate and corporate organic food systems.  It would empower local residents take control of their food supplies.


Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, Health

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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.


+ add your own
12:48PM PDT on Mar 21, 2013


11:59AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

Whole Food chain is just too expensive for most of us.

2:30AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013


5:05AM PST on Feb 17, 2013

Thank you Sarah, for Sharing this!

4:37AM PST on Feb 17, 2013

That's terrible! No one should have to live like that.

5:13PM PDT on Oct 28, 2012


7:01PM PDT on Aug 5, 2012

They need to grow their own.

11:12AM PDT on Aug 3, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

8:25AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Yes, finding sources of food that is nutritious and now contaminated by pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and toxins is fundamental to healthy eating.

3:23PM PDT on Jul 23, 2012


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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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people are talking

Sounds great, thank you for sharing!

Well, that's a way to see avocados in a whole new light. Not to mention shape and size. Thanks.

Thank you.


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