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America is home to nearly 300 million people. Even in this land of commercial and factory farms, of fast food chains and cheap and prolific foods, 49 million people—that’s one in six—struggle with hunger.

But hunger in the United States looks different than it does in far away places like India or Somalia. The sad truth is that even in this land of plenty, not everyone has the means to obtain enough food or they have a limited availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

It’s called food insecurity, and access to fresh food is decreasing for many in this country.

A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 2.3 million households fell into “food deserts” — places where access to fresh food is limited. The map below highlights food deserts by county.


Click on the map to be taken to the U.S. Department of Agriculture site where the map is interactive.

Heifer International’s USA program is working to close the gap for families in food deserts and for others facing food insecurity. To reach the most vulnerable people in the United States, Heifer is focusing our work in the USA to two regions: the Mississippi River Delta and Appalachia. The states in these two regions see significantly higher food insecurity and poverty rates than many areas in the country.

The work here is multi-tiered. Programs first look to create more—and more diverse—producers in these areas. We teach new farmers as well as those who have been farming for years to consider new techniques that improve land stewardship and sustainability.

Another element to the work seeks to foster farmers’ entrepreneurial spirit and helps them start food-related businesses like composting operations, restaurants, greenhouses for seedlings, jam production, meat processing plants, vegetable aggregation centers, retail stores or farmers’ cooperatives.

We provide business development training and help farmers learn new skills for adding value to their products. These efforts create jobs and income for communities where often economies have stagnated. Creating local businesses supports the local food system and furthers economic growth, ensuring the region will continue to thrive after Heifer is gone.

First Lady Michelle Obama has also launched an initiative to help families living in food deserts. Let's Move! seeks to put healthy food back on the shelves in stores in these areas. To help that effort, three major retailers have announced plans to open hundreds of new stores in food deserts. A news release from the White House said that the new stores will serve 9.5 million Americans struggling with food insecurity.

By bettering the food systems here at home, Heifer is hoping to change those numbers and to serve the food insecure in a faster and better way. We're glad to see the First Lady getting involved, too.

Author

Annie Bergman

Annie Bergman is a Global Communications Manager and helps plan, assign and develop content for the nonprofit’s website, magazine and blog. Bergman has interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, beekeepers in Honduras, women’s groups in India and war widows in Kosovo, among many others in her six years at Heifer.