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  • Maya McDowell

Food Deserts in Denver: SustainEd Farms is Planting Seeds for a Better Future

The term food desert has generated some buzz over recent years - but what exactly defines a food desert, and how do food deserts affect Coloradans? SustainEd Farms is tackling this issue from the root by Growing Food. Growing Knowledge. Growing Justice.


Food deserts: What are they?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as an area where at least 500 people, or 33% of the population, live over a mile from a grocery store or large supermarket. Though proximity is the main factor in identifying food deserts, many other elements come into play. For example, imagine living just under a mile from your local grocery store but having no transportation or bus route to and from the store. Consider people living with disabilities, people whose neighborhood corner store doesn’t offer fresh produce, or people who can’t afford the food at their local grocery. All these factors contribute to the food insecurity of living in a food desert.


Close to home: Food deserts in Denver

According to a 2017 USDA report, approximately 19 million people in America are living in food deserts. As you may imagine, there are many food deserts in Colorado’s rural areas, where grocery stores and access to fresh food are few and far between. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Denver metro area’s food deserts are numerous. Neighborhoods considered food deserts in Denver include, but are not limited to, Westwood, Barnum, North Park Hill, Northeast Park Hill, Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, Skyland, Clayton, and Montbello.


Working toward solutions

The issue of food deserts is complex, and its solution will require a wide variety of approaches. At SustainEd Farms, we know that amplifying an enthusiastic and knowledgeable base of young people connected to their local food system is critical to that larger solution. SustainEd Farms works with 30 school partners across DPS, with youth ranging from ECE up to high school, to provide sustainability and nutrition education. SustainEd focuses on schools with a 70% or higher free-and-reduced lunch rate near food deserts, working within many of the neighborhoods listed above. During the summer months, the food grown at school gardens is donated to local food pantries and distributed at a weekly pay-what-you-can farmers market in Elyria-Swansea. SustainEd Farms is cultivating future food systems leaders to play a direct role in the health outcomes of their families and communities and growing healthy, affordable, and culturally relevant food in the meantime.


SustainEd Farms volunteering in a food desert in Denver


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