News & Media

To Understand Food Deserts, We Need To Understand Food Systems


Mapping food deserts–areas where fresh, healthy food is hard to come by—is nothing new. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its Food Desert Locator, an interactive map of the entire country.

But food desert maps, in and of themselves, don’t point to a solution. The Maryland Food System Map (MFSM), launched in 2012 and comprehensively revamped this year, does. The MFSM plots out food deserts, but it also details the state’s entire food system. You can see the distance between a local farm and a food desert; you can see that a supermarket and a farmer’s market are clustered within a stone’s throw of each other, while the next neighborhood over lacks crucial food resources.

That might mean a city agency encouraging a farmers market to move into a food desert, or a food retail chain doing the same. It might mean food retailers or food banks using the map to identify nearby farmers, and developing an arrangement where they source directly from them to ensure a constant supply of fresh, seasonal produce. In Baltimore specifically, CLF worked with the city’s Food Policy Initiative to map out food access across the city, and tackle the gaps from an urban-planning perspective. One result of that effort, which began in 2015, was the Baltimore City Orchard Project–a nonprofit that plants clusters of fruit trees in parks and underused spaces around the city–targeting their new projects specifically to populate food deserts and create a new fresh produce resource in the neighborhoods.

Read the whole article online at Fast Company. Photo credit to jwilkinson/iStock.