Imagine living in a food desert: a community riddled with fast food chains, carry outs, and corner stores stocked with junk food and limited healthy food options. The closest supermarket is more than a half mile away and you don’t have a car. You don’t have the time to wait around for buses or the capacity to carry a week’s worth of groceries that half mile to feed your family of four for a week. What would you do?
The stakes are significant here: this community lacks access to affordable, high quality fruits and vegetables that are essential for a healthy diet. Even worse, the high-sugar, high-fat, low-fiber diet that is available is linked to elevated rates of obesity, which in turn heightens risk for diabetes, heart disease and some kinds of cancer. With a median household income of $45,510 to support your family of four, how do you cover the imminent medical bills resulting from poor diet?
These are difficult decisions that many of us don’t think about, however they are decisions often faced by underserved individuals and families living in food deserts – 25.3 million Americans to be exact and 1 in 4 residents in Baltimore City.
"Most of the people in these communities say that they would love to eat healthier foods, but they cost too much or they're of poor quality or they are just not available,” says Joel Gittelsohn, PhD, MS, with both the Center for Human Nutrition and the Global Center for Childhood Obesity.
At Hungry Harvest, we believe that access to healthy food should be a human right, not a privilege. We are working every day to cultivate food justice by filling food access gaps and fixing inequalities in access to healthy food. We are doing so by using a sustainable business solution that systematically addresses food deserts. This solution is called Produce in a SNAP.
Produce in a SNAP manages a series of reduced-cost community markets throughout Baltimore City’s communities that lack resources for their residents to purchase fresh, affordable produce. We empower these neighborhoods to take control of their health by providing them the tools to operate their own market. These markets provide communities with consistent access to affordable produce – 50% cheaper than what you would find at a grocery store. We increase the purchasing power of those living in food deserts by accepting SNAP-EBT (formerly known as food stamps) as well, so that food-insecure individuals and families can stretch their food budgets and put fresh produce on their tables. Nearly one third of Baltimore City’s population receives SNAP-EBT benefits.
In just over a year of the program’s existence we’ve provided over 70,000 pounds of reduced-cost produce through Produce in a SNAP to over 2,000 people.
But this is just the beginning.
Because we are looking at hunger and these systematic inequalities in access to healthy food from a business perspective, we can make a long-term, sustainable impact in people’s lives, while scaling this program to new markets.
Look at Baltimore City a little over a year ago right before we launched Produce in a SNAP. The yellow shaded areas represent food deserts within city limits:
Now look at where we plan to have Produce in a SNAP markets by January 2018:
We’re planning on launching five new Produce in a SNAP markets in October alone. And this is just one city. Food-insecurity is an issue nationwide with nearly 50 million people lacking consistent access to adequate food.
So what is next? Well in our nation’s capital one in seven households is food-insecure. Worse yet, 26.6 percent of D.C. households with children can’t afford enough food. Our plan? Launch Produce in a SNAP this winter in Wards 7 and 8 where just three grocery stores serve 149,750 people. After that? We’ll expand to Philadelphia in 2018 where 12% of the city’s population live in deep poverty, meaning they have a mere $12,150 to provide food, clothing and housing for a family of four. Hungry Harvest recently expanded to South Florida where nearly a million residents don’t know where their next meal is coming from, so you bet Produce in a SNAP will be in our plans for that area as well. We haven’t even launched yet in Raleigh, NC but we’re already thinking about how Produce in a SNAP can benefit people in need in a state with one of the highest percentages of children under 18 years of age who are food-insecure.
As Hungry Harvest continues to expand, Produce in a SNAP will expand likewise to fulfill our dual mission to end food waste and food access gaps around the country. Thank you to all of our Harvest Heroes who have supported this program with their subscriptions and helped us reach the 70,000 pounds of reduced-cost produce and 18 markets in just a year. Your continued support will help us open new markets and bring much-needed healthy produce to food deserts. Thank you ... we couldn't make this bold mission a reality without you!