The Farmplate Blog

Technology Can Provide an Oasis for Food Deserts

Jeff Gangemi Apr 23, 2012 The Beat 0 comments

We recently linked to a great blog post from Derek Singleton, a distribution management sofware analyst, where he argued that the U.S. stands to benefit from a more European-style local food distribution system.

Now, Singleton’s back with a thoughtful analysis of how technology can help alleviate some of the challenges of food deserts. According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.” Low access in rural areas is defined as 10 miles, versus one mile in urban areas.

In the piece, Singleton consults several experts and discusses some local food distribution models – public market distribution, regional food hubs, and community supported agriculture – that are growing around the country.  

Despite the success of these models, they can be slow to scale. And in the case of farmers’ markets, availability can be limited to one day per week. Singleton argues that, in addition to the above models, “food deserts need small stores that are replenished with high frequency, low-volume deliveries,” enabled by Internet ordering capability. That, he says, would allow these small, community-based stores to carry less inventory and replenish it more often. 

Of course, the success of such a model presupposes increased demand for local food. There is evidence to support that growth, though in some places more than others. Institutions like Atlanta’s Boxcar Grocer are working on it. 

Read on for more.

 “In Austin, we’re spoiled with healthy food choices. It’s the birthplace of Whole Foods, has a successful Texas-based grocery chain (HEB), several farmer’s markets, and a variety of organic food stores. But in Detroit, a city with roughly the same population as Austin, there are precious few options. That’s because parts of Detroit are in a food desert–a region without access to supermarkets and affordable, healthy food.

Food deserts are not unique to Detroit. They can be found in many low-income (typically urban) areas of the United States. I recently caught up with Dan Carmody, President of Detroit’s Eastern Market, and Frank Dell, CEO of food supply chain consultancy Dell Mart Inc., to discuss potential solutions to food deserts…”

Read more here > 

Photo courtesy of the USDA