Combating Food Insecurity: Turning Food Deserts into Gardens

Capital One is helping eliminate food deserts by enabling access to fresh and affordable produce in urban areas with grant support

Recognizing that 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in low-income neighborhoods located more than one mile from a supermarket, organizations across the country are striving to replace those food deserts in their communities with urban gardens ripe for harvesting fresh produce.

What are the Key Drivers of Food Insecurity?

Limited access to supermarkets, grocery stores, or other sources of healthy and affordable food may make it harder for some Americans to eat a healthy diet.

What are the Main Effects of Food Insecurity?

Living in food deserts can lead to health conditions among residents including diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. 

Black and Hispanic Communities Disproportionately Face the Impact of Living in Food Deserts

Area-specific studies find disparities in access to supermarkets between predominantly Black or Hispanic communities and predominantly white communities. 

This can be seen in cities like Washington D.C., where the District’s two lowest income wards — whose residents are overwhelmingly Black — have one supermarket for every 70,000 residents.

  • Comparatively, there is one supermarket for approximately every 12,000 residents in two of the District’s highest income and predominantly white neighborhoods.

How Capital One is Supporting Efforts to Eradicate Food Deserts

To help remedy this inequity, Capital One is supporting DC Urban Greens in Washington, D.C., Richmond Resiliency Garden Project in Richmond, Virginia and Bonton Farms in Dallas, Texas through grant funding to better equip residents with access to healthy foods.

“Gardening shows people the alchemy that they can grow fresh food right out of the ground,” says Ron Finley, who founded the Ron Finley Project to combat the food desert he grew up in in South Central Los Angeles. “It gives people the power to develop a life skill where they can feed themselves and others. This has the opportunity to create jobs, launch businesses and limit incarceration rates as people see they have the power to live the life they’ve always wanted.”

Here’s how our support is helping these three organizations working to eradicate food deserts break that mold by enabling opportunities for urban agriculture for communities in their city.

Richmond Resiliency Garden Project, Richmond, Virginia

Duron Chavis, Founder and Director says:

“The impetus for our focus on urban agriculture came from this idea of local food having layers that can contribute to people’s economic resiliency. 

If you’re growing your own food, you’re saving money on groceries. We see urban agriculture as a catalyst for building wealth. Our work is to build the infrastructure that our community can tap into to become business owners — whether that be through farming or entrepreneurship.

In addition to creating opportunities for socioeconomic mobility, we’re addressing environmental issues like air quality and Urban Heat Island Effect in which an urban area is significantly warmer than its surrounding areas due to factors like waste heat or lack of vegetation. 

We’re also building social cohesion where people are really getting to know their neighbors. We train people in the community through boot camps and classes. One of my students took our classes and learned the principles around the importance of healthy soil and how to grow produce. He started growing fruits and mixing it with hot peppers to make pepper jam. Now he’s catering events, selling his products online and turning his passion for cooking into a business.

Other students have gone on to take that knowledge and market themselves as a person that can help develop a garden or work with a nonprofit to educate kids. 

I’m so excited about our grant from Capital One because it will help us build community capacity even more so and introduce people to opportunities in urban agriculture. The greatest way to share this magic is to have the resources for people to see this in practice right in their neighborhoods.”

DC Urban Greens, Washington D.C.

Taboris Robinson, Director, says:

“In my neighborhood there is only one Safeway — and it may be up to six miles away from some residents. That is the only supermarket for the 100,000 people that live in this community.

The freshness of the produce there is inadequate because a neighborhood in a food desert simply isn’t the first priority.

DC Urban Greens is here to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the people living here. Every week we take the food we grew and pass out roughly 100 bags of fresh produce.

The people light up every time they receive this fresh produce because they can’t get it anywhere else.”

Bonton Farms, Dallas, Texas

Daron Babcock, Executive Director says:

“I first came to the Bonton neighborhood in Dallas 10 years ago with a friend who worked in prison ministry. Most of the people that we would meet with were formerly incarcerated citizens. 

All of them would say the same thing — if no one gives us a chance to work, we’re going back to prison.

It seemed unacceptable to me that these people were crying out for an opportunity that wasn’t even available. 

The city of Dallas is divided by I-30 — a highway that runs through its center. Bonton is south of I-30. While roughly half of the city’s population lives in the southern half, most job opportunities are in the north.

There was a whole bunch of abandoned land here and we decided to grow food on it. 

Eight later, we have created 41 full-time jobs and will pay over $1.4 million in wages to Bonton residents this year. 

Bonton Farms also offers 30 to 45 paid internships to people that have no formal work history to help these people overcome barriers and build skills.

We are playing a significant role in healing the old wounds of our city. Last year we had people from over 40 different countries visit and over 22,000 volunteers helped out. 

When those people visited our neighborhood they came face-to-face with things that they may have preconceived ideas about. 

But after they worked alongside or shared a meal with the people in Bonton, that ignorance became knowledge. Those people walked away from that experience part of the army for change.”

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