In 2011, National Relief Charities will distribute over 500 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables to dozens of the isolated reservation communities we serve. In addition to the distribution of produce, we help to establish and supply hundreds of individual and community gardens on reservations. Most recently we have started working on some long-term market solutions that will empower local communities to supply residents with fresh foods.
I like these projects very much because they demonstrate well NRC’s program approach. We work on short-term projects that address immediate needs, while at the same time developing projects that support long-term, locally owned solutions to community challenges.
Most of the communities where NRC focuses our work are classified by the USDA as food deserts. A food desert is characterized as:
- An area in the industrialized world where it is difficult to obtain nutritious, affordable food and is prevalent in poor and rural communities.
- An environment that is not supportive of good health and is associated with a variety of nutrition-related health problems.
This is certainly demonstrated in our communities as American Indians experience the worst health status of any ethnic group in the US, including the highest rate of type 2 diabetes and the fastest growing rate of obesity.
In the United States, retail food distribution outlets are unevenly distributed. Retailers are less likely to operate stores in poor communities because the people have less money to spend, there is a higher rate of crime, and transport costs are higher. On American Indian reservations, land-use issues discourage development and further complicate access to food for the people who live there. In these communities, the food supply is characterized by less variety, more highly processed foods, and less affordable food. Food retailers in food deserts, which are primarily convenience stores and gas stations, have been shown to have a 30-60% mark-up on their food items.
I was so pleased to see that First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced an initiative to improve food security for the people living in food deserts as a part of her Let’s Move! Campaign. We are hopeful that the commitment of food retailers extends into rural Indian country.
NRC has been working with our partners on reservations to till and plant gardens, harvest produce, distribute vegetables, and set up farmer’s markets. This work will continue into the fall. It is great to see the response people have to the produce distributions and it is encouraging to see the success of dozens of reservation gardens and markets.