In Jefferson County, AL, 70% of our residents are considered overweight or obese. Obesity-related illnesses state-wide cost us $4.7 billion each year. Many of our residents don’t always realize that environmental factors in our communities, such as food deserts, can lead to the nutrition-related health issues that cost us all money.
Food deserts are large geographic areas that lack grocery stores or farmers markets, and instead have fast-food restaurants, corner stores, or no access to food at all. In Jefferson County, people who live in food deserts often have worse nutrition-related health outcomes than those who have access to healthy food. Residents of food deserts also tend to suffer from chronic conditions associated with poor nutrition such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
As residents of Birmingham we see, first hand, the negative impact these food deserts have on our residents and we understand the solution must come from within our community. When our organization developed the Urban Food Project, we began by talking to food desert residents to determine their needs. We listened intently and what we heard was loud and clear. Residents want and need access to affordable healthy, nutritious food.
The Urban Food Project set to work to create an impactful program that would change the environmental factors that restrict residents’ access to healthy food. We engaged the community, talked to the experts, then partnered with local farmers, businesses and community groups to create public markets, farm stands and mobile solutions in neighborhoods identified as food deserts.
We set out not just to provide access to healthy food for those who wanted it, but to connect farmers with business opportunities, whether retail, grocers or restaurants. So far the response has been great, from the residents, the farmers and the local businesses. Given the demonstrated short-term success in targeted neighborhoods thus far, we hope to expand the program to other parts of the city as well. Pretty soon Birmingham’s food deserts will become food oases supplied by Alabama farmers.