USDA has launched a resource to assist in expanding access to healthy food and eliminating food deserts: www.usda.gov/fooddeserts. As outlined by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, three Federal Departments – Agriculture, Treasury, and Health and Human Services – are working together for the first time to combat food desert issues. The webpage provides information on available grant programs that support the development of sustainable strategies aiming to increase access to healthy, affordable foods. The three Departments, leveraging their unique capabilities and resources, encourage local leaders, community development organizations and businesses to form strategic alliances. The grant programs will address diverse needs and build capacity allowing businesses and communities to adapt as markets evolve.
The 2008 Farm Bill defines a “food desert” as “an area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities,” including rural, urban, and tribal communities. USDA’s Economic Research Service assisted the efforts to identify food deserts by publishing a report on food deserts and by developing The Food Environment Atlas, an online mapping tool that provides a baseline description of food deserts across the country, including demographic information.
USDA is uniquely positioned to promote a range of interventions that expand access to nutritious foods, including developing and equipping grocery stores, healthy food retail outlets, and other small businesses selling healthy food in food deserts. The goal is not only to improve healthy food choices, but also to create jobs, support small and independent businesses, revitalize distressed communities, and, open up new markets for farmers and ranchers to sell their products, thereby stimulating economic growth in rural America.