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When Grocery Stores are an Amenity

Have you ever considered having a grocery store nearby a luxury?

Across the country approximately 23.5 million people live in food deserts, explained as “low-income census tract that is more than one mile away from a grocery store in urban areas, or more than 10 miles away from a grocery store in rural areas” (U.S. Department of Agriculture). In 2010, about 759,000 Coloradans lived in areas considered food deserts1. While most of us do not think twice about being able to go to the grocery store for those struggling with food insecurity it is a thought out trip, as some would to plan their next vacation.

1 https://www.coloradohealthinstitute.org/blog/food-deserts-thirst-fresh-solutions

Especially for those who do not have their own mode of transportation, this trip can be both mentally and physically straining. Without proper access to grocery stores, there is limited access to fresh produce, whole grains and breads, as well as non-dairy alternatives. Because of this, there are clear health disparities in towns and cities that are considered food deserts.  In a study of Chicago neighborhoods, it was found that there were twice as many deaths from diabetes in areas with limited access to grocery stores than those with good access2. To maintain caloric intake, however, those living in low-income areas are forced to limit the variety of the food they eat in order to stay in budget. For many, this means eating low-cost and nutritionally poor foods.

As explained by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, “a dollar can buy 1200 calories worth of cookies, or 250 calories of carrots”3. It is important that we find ways for these communities to have access to fresh and nutrition-rich foods.

Community gardens and agriculture projects

can greatly assist in the availability of fresh produce in low-income tracts. Denver Urban Gardens has 188 gardens throughout the greater Denver area, including thirty-one acres of land. Although there is an enrollment fee for many of these gardens, the investment is worth access to fresh produce (especially when the cost of transportation is put into play). Some community gardens, such as Growing Gardens which has eight gardens across Boulder County, offer need-based and volunteer discounts. Community gardens within walking distance of low-income neighborhoods also cut down on CO2 emissions by eliminating the need to travel by bus or carenvironment and animals.

The Fairmont School Garden, part of Denver Urban Garden Network (Photo: Denver Urban Garden)
2Curry, Andrew. “Bringing Healthy Fare to Big-City ‘Food Deserts.’” Diabetes Forecast, 2009. Web Accessed 02/23/15
3 https://cpehn.org/sites/default/files/resource_files/diabetesbrief2010.pdf

What about options for those who can’t join in a community garden?

Websites such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, and apps such as Letgo, and Offerup are great places to start. These sites often offer low-budget (and even free!) second hand gardening supplies that you can find within your community. To decrease your carbon footprint, try to carpool with neighbors, family, or friends when getting groceries (if not in walking distance). Walking or biking to the grocery store, when possible, also helps eliminate food waste by ensuring you only purchase what you carry while walking or biking.

Farmer’s markets are another great way to support the community

as a whole, speaking to the process of farm-to-table. Farmer’s markets allow for local producers to interact on a more personal level with the community, rather than sending their products to grocery stores. The process of farm-to-table also provides more transparency and learning opportunities between producers and consumers. This page provides aLocal products list of all farmer’s markets throughout Colorado, and here you can find a list of farmer’s markets that are available throughout the winter (subject to change due to COVID-19 regulations).

Coming together as a community is of the utmost importance when combatting the effects of food deserts. Creating a relationship with farmers and local producers as well as using alternative low-budget at home options for gardening and finding a garden within your own community can assist in building greater access towards fresh produce and nutrition rich foods. Stay tuned for more low-budget, sustainable gardening and produce tips!

Lauren "Lav" de Leon

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