Cornell Partnership Story: Food Deserts

Child picking apple

When you think of a desert, emptiness comes to mind. A place devoid of resources, of sustenance, of life. A food desert is essentially that — a wasteland lacking access to fresh, nutritious food.

In the United States today, there are 23.5 million people who live in areas that lack access to an adequately stocked grocery store.1 In urban areas, where many people rely on public transportation, biking or walking, the nearest supermarket could be a mile or more away. In rural communities, a food desert is considered an area where fresh food isn't available within 10 miles.

Food deserts most often occur in low-income areas, making options even more limited. It also makes bringing home groceries a difficult task for some, and close to impossible for many others. As a result, many families resort to convenience stores, fast food restaurants and discount outlets nearby, where food options are generally limited to processed foods, sugary snacks and sodas, all of which are less than desirable if you are trying to provide healthy, nutritious meals for your family.

Research shows that in these food-barren areas, incidents of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related illnesses are more prevalent than in communities with better access to fresh food. In fact, according to DoSomething.org, “In Chicago, the death rate from diabetes in a food desert is twice that of areas with access to grocery stores".2

In addition to health problems, children living within a food desert tend to have more behavioral issues and attention disorders. In 2015, 6.5 million children were in this situation.3

In working to correct this problem, people and organizations throughout the country are coming together to implement a variety of solutions. School gardens and community parks are forefront in the efforts to shrink food deserts. In many parks, fruit trees are being planted and areas are set aside for community vegetable gardens, while at schools, gardens incorporate outdoor learning spaces to grow much-needed vegetables. These efforts also help to create wildlife habitats. Students who spend time learning in outdoor environments as well as indoors routinely show better focus, more developed social skills and tend to have less incidences of obesity.4

Children in garden

In addition to growing fresh fruits and vegetables, these efforts are encouraging native wildlife habitats, and increasing community involvement and a sense of pride in ownership. In a school garden's hands-on setting, children are more able to incorporate all of the STEM components – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. They are learning about weather and seasonal cycles, native wildlife and conservation issues, and maybe most importantly in a food desert, they are discovering healthy eating habits that will help them not merely survive, but rather thrive into adulthood.5 These little citizen scientists are also more likely to bring their gardening skills home, thus enriching the lives of their families.

kid digging

The makers of Alaska® fertilizers are proud to be partnering with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to provide grants for schools to create or improve their own gardens and backyard habitats. Ten recipients were chosen that have demonstrated a sincere need and the potential for impact in their regions. These gardens will increase student involvement in science, math and other life-skills while creating wildlife habitats and providing fresh, nutritious food to the students and their communities.6

To ensure continued success, the makers of Alaska® products, along with Cornell, will hold teacher training seminars in New York, Missouri and Georgia. Valuable tips and skills for garden maintenance will be taught, as well as instruction on incorporating STEM principles and fostering community involvement.

Although this program has just begun, it is already showing exciting promise with 650 schools applying for the inaugural grant. With this amount of interest and enthusiasm, the makers of Alaska® products are looking into potential retail partners in hopes of expanding the program into 2017 and beyond!

Alaska® brand is a brand that cares. Learn more about us as we grow.

Sources:

1. Let's Move, Taking On Food Deserts, February 2010.

2. DoSomething.org, 11 Facts About Food Deserts

3. Merdies Hayes, 'Food desert' linked to early signs of childhood mental illness, Our Weekly, May 28, 2015

4. National Gardening Association, A Garden In EverySchool, 2014

5. Green Schoolyard, Top Ten Reasons to have an Outdoor Classroom, September 2011

6. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, School gardens grow kids' physical activity levels, March 2014

*Alaska is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.

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