Farmers’ Markets: The Potential Cure for Food Deserts?

For millions of U.S. citizens their diets consist primarily of fast food. Unfortunately, however, this is not by choice. While no one is sitting these Americans down and forcing burgers and fries down their throats, many people would argue that they are still indirectly forced to eat this type of food.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking for millions of Americans it is difficult to afford anything other than fast food. Yes, this is definitely a factor, but it is not the only one, or even the key one. One of the main reasons that millions of diets lack important foods and nutrients is because of food deserts. Imagine living in a poor inner-city community. You leave your home looking for a place to eat lunch. With no car you’re forced to find a restaurant or food market within walking distance. Every corner you turn all you see are drive-thru restaurants and gas station convenience stores. With no other options, and little money in your pockets, you decide to get the most “bang for your buck,” and order a typical fast food meal.

This is a typical scenario for millions of Americans. Food deserts are a major problem in the fight against obesity and poor nutrition. For the people living in food deserts, healthy food options are simply not available. Little availability to fresh foods is linked to numerous health problems including obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. Society often assumes that obesity is a disease brought about by a person’s informed decisions to choose to eat poorly. However, more often than not this is not true.

The creation of food deserts came about because of the migration of middle and upper class citizens to suburban areas. As the upper and middle classes were able to afford vehicles they began to move away from city centers and towards suburban areas. The large supermarkets and grocery stores soon followed suit, and the citizens in the poor inner-city areas were left with little resources for fresh foods.

Bringing fresh foods to inner-city citizens via supermarkets and large grocery stores is complicated, expensive and very time consuming. A fantastic alternative to the large grocery store chains is the farmers’ market. Farmers’ markets are relatively easy to establish in comparison to large brick and mortar stores. They are a direct injection of fresh and healthy foods into areas saturated with fast food restaurants.

I strongly believe in promoting farmers’ markets, as they not only help in providing healthy food options, but also help to stimulate consumer spending. People are more inclined to purchase products when they know that they are helping to support their community and neighbors. Farmers’ markets bring communities together and foster a sense of pride for one’s neighborhood. Yes, it’s true that food at farmers’ markets can be more expensive than the food found at a Walmart or Kroger. However, as the importance of fresh foods gains awareness I believe people will be willing to spend more on such products. With no stores selling fresh foods in food deserts, farmers’ markets can capture the entire market for fresh food within these areas.

Not enough is being done to help promote farmers’ markets, especially in low-income areas. With the popularity of organic foods and health-conscious living, farmers’ markets are very “in.” Unfortunately though, the crowd they are popular with are the middle and upper class because these are the people that can afford to shop at such markets. Surprisingly, very few organizations exist that help to create new farmers’ markets specifically in low-income areas. The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) is one of the few large-scale nonprofits that helps to promote farmers’ markets across the country.

The FMC understands the potential benefits of farmers’ markets in food deserts, but their purpose is to strengthen all farmers’ markets, not just the ones in low-income areas or food-deserts. Therefore, I think a massive opportunity exists for the creation of an organization dedicated to the development of farmers’ markets within designated food deserts.

I believe that creating such an organization is only the first half of promoting farmers’ markets in food deserts. The second half is finding a way for low-income citizens to afford foods from farmers’ markets. Recently, more and more farmers’ markets have begun to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards. Still, only 12 percent of all farmers’ markets accept these cards. In my opinion the ability to use SNAP cards at farmers’ markets is the key to providing affordable fresh food to low-income citizens. Funding for SNAP card readers can come from either the government or organizations focused on combating obesity and/or promoting healthy food options.

Food deserts are a serious problem in our society. Americans needs to be made aware of their existence and their contribution to our astonishingly high obesity rates. Furthermore, farmers’ markets can be key to the elimination of food deserts. The creation of farmers’ markets that accept SNAP cards in food deserts can be beneficial both to customers and purveyors alike. Customers will have access to affordable and healthy food, while purveyors possess nearly the entire market share for such food in these areas. Food deserts will continue to hinder society’s fight against obesity, unless action is taken. Farmers’ markets might just be the cure needed to eradicate these food deserts.

Luke Richner is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group focused on global health issues, energy markets, and economic development. He is a senior at Duke University, completing his final semester.




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