Community gardens such as this one are helping Richmond City residents combat the challenges posed by food deserts.
The young woman named Special from Richmond City had no idea she was in an urban food desert when she walked in to a Virginia Cooperative Extension symposium set up to tackle the problem.
Special’s father had recently died from a heart attack and she was looking for ways that her family could start eating healthy, so she attended the event at Fifth Street Baptist Church that featured a number of tips on eating well. Special not only learned that she was one of the thousands of Richmond residents living in a food desert, she also learned how she can work with VCE to combat the issue.
“Today’s event has really inspired me to get involved to work with VCE and others to address this concern,” she told her local Extension agent.
There are more than 25 food deserts in Richmond, where people do not have easy access to fresh and nutritious food within 1.5 miles of their homes. Though grocery stores or farmers markets may be accessible by car, many people do not have a means to get to one, so they are dependent upon their corner store, which often carries fast or junk food.
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What’s for dinner? For some, making a quick run to the grocery store for fresh produce is not an option. In Suffolk, Virginia, some families must travel as far as 25 miles to buy fresh produce.
In short, they are in a desert — a food desert.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as “low-income communities without ready access to healthy and affordable food.” Food deserts can be attributed to an absence of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers in an area.
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In Virginia, more than 3.1 million households are food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.
Virginia Cooperative Extension is working to alleviate food insecurity through its Family Nutrition Program Food Access and Availability Initiative. The project focuses on increasing access to local food systems, especially through farmers markets and gardening projects.
“We want to raise awareness that SNAP benefits, or food stamps, can be redeemed at many farmers markets around the commonwealth. We also want to support markets in outreach and educational efforts for SNAP participants,” said Meredith Ledlie Johnson, a project associate for the Family Nutrition Program who manages the Food Security Project.
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BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 12, 2015 – Virginia Cooperative Extension and its partners will host the fourth annual Farm to Table Conference Dec. 2-4 at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Virginia. The theme for this year’s conference is “Strengthening Your Foodshed, Protecting Our Watersheds.”
The conference will feature opportunities for participants to learn about foodsheds and watersheds in the Shenandoah Valley and to hear from key players in the fields of food security, farming, and environmental policy. Early bird registration pricing is available until Nov. 20, and rates will increase after this date. More details regarding the conference and registration are available at the conference website.
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