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Do You Live in a Food Desert? New Map Exposes Areas Most at Risk

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flickr: NatalieMaynor

While your backyard probably isn’t covered in sand or cacti, you might be living in a desert: a food desert. Forget the mirages and rattlesnakes. This type of desert is about healthy, fresh food – or more accurately, a lack thereof.

The Department of Agriculture just released a fantastic new online tool, the “Food Desert Locator,” which allows you to see whether your community lacks access to affordable, fresh and healthy food. Most importantly, the locator helps policymakers and planners identify communities in which public-private intervention can significantly help families improve their health and nutrition through improved access to grocery stores, rather than corner stores selling overly-processed, unhealthy foods.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Desert Locator
See if your community is a food desert at the USDA's site.

We know that nutrition-related health problems have skyrocketed across the country. According to the CDC, almost 75% of American adults (and 30% of all children) are now overweight or obese. Of individuals born in the year 2000, one in three will develop diabetes in their lifetime, with the rates being much higher for African American and Hispanic populations.

Access to fresh, healthy food is a huge part of the problem. We can’t expect people to eat foods that are good for their bodies or the environment when they aren’t available.

That’s why NRDC recognized individuals who are working to improve access to nutritious, fresh food as part of our 2011 Growing Green Awards. Chef Ann Cooper, the “Renegade Lunch Lady,” has taken aim at childhood obesity with her campaign to bring cooked-from-scratch, healthy meals to schools across the country. For many children, school lunch may be the only healthy meal they get during the day, and Ann is helping schools replace their tater tots and mystery meat with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Molly Rockamann, a 29-year-old farmer in Missouri, is helping members of her community outside St. Louis learn how to grow organic fruits and vegetables themselves. She’s improving food security, and building a new community of organic farmers, who are finding better health in the food and culture that comes with caring for the earth.

Check out the USDA’s Food Desert Locator, and zoom in to see your neighborhood and communities nearby. Then watch the stories of the food heroes of the 2011 Growing Green Awards. These amazing leaders in sustainable food are working for a healthier future for all of us.

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