Are there Food Deserts in Delaware?

The answer is yes.  Delaware has fifteen to be exact. So what is a food desert? Simply put, it’s a geographic area in the U.S., particularly lower-income communities, where access to affordable, quality, and nutritious food is limited.  The term originated in Britain, but it became a “buzz word” after being referenced in the 2008 Farm Bill, as a focus of the popular “Let’s Move Campaign”, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. In 2011, the USDA introduced a new online tool, the Food Desert Locator, to map food deserts across the country.

Where are the deserts in Delaware? I used the online tool to find out.

–        11 are in New Castle County (scattered across the county and in the city of Wilmington)

–        3 are in Kent County (all located near Rt. 13 corridor in Smyrna, Dover and Harrington)

–        1 is in Sussex County (located east of Millsboro)

I suppose I understand the large number in northern part of our state but I don’t understand the reason for large pockets down state, where agriculture is still prominent.  Kent and Sussex Counties boasts the highest number of farms and crop land; vegetable and fruit production are abundant.

How does this affect Delaware agriculture? Farmers near these limited access geographic areas could fill the void by providing fresh, local food to outlets such as schools, corner stores and even grocery stores. The establishment of farmer’s markets in these areas could also increase access while providing farmers with an additional nearby outlet for yields.  However, the challenge is communication and planning; coordinated efforts must inform farmers prior to the growing season so they can order seed, plant adequate quantities, find labor for harvest, set pricing and account for transportation to new outlets.

So what does this mean for Delaware? Research suggests that residents who have better access to food retailers tend to have healthier diets and lower levels of obesity. The presence of these deserts in our state poses a threat to our entire population health, including children and elderly populations. Our state will have to figure out how access can be improved, which is no easy task since these deserts can be linked to income, race, and mobility.

Combined, I believe the conception and visibility of food deserts allows our state and Delaware agriculture the opportunity to assemble a “built environment”; meaning one sector cannot fill the void of access in a given location on their own. It will take many entities of Delaware farmers, lawmakers, state officials, town leaders, and concerned citizens to ensure all Delaware citizens have access to healthier food!

Look forward to more posts on this concept of a built environment and what Delaware is doing in upcoming weeks! See here for a recent study by UD on Delaware Food Deserts.

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