Empowering people to overcome food deserts near Davidson

Alston Lee Lippert & Nicky Oyedepo

“Food desert?” she asks, and as a look of confusion settled across her face I could almost picture the question mark in the middle of her furrowed brow. Before being given the chance to respond, a friend to my left laughed and attempted to clarify. “No, I think she means food dessert. Right?” Incredulous, I looked around the table and asked “You guys have never heard of a food desert?” and was rewarded with lovely blank stares. And that was only the beginning. Surprised with my friends’ ignorance on the topic, I took to the streets curious to discover the number of students that actually know what a food desert is. As the blank stares continued, followed with a few ‘hm’s and ‘what’s, it became apparent that 8 out of 20 students aware of the problem that food deserts pose isn’t enough.

To clarify: Davidson is not a food desert. However, we are surrounded by them. In fact, there are over 25 areas that the United States Department of Agriculture categorizes as food deserts in North Carolina. A food desert, according to the USDA, is a census area that qualifies as a low income community in which a significant portion of the population lives more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. Many people living in these situations are unable to frequently get healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.

Around us, this is an especially large problem in the northwest part of Charlotte. These communities face many health problems related to the lack of easy access to healthy foods. Research shows that people residing in food deserts are more likely to die from heart disease or diabetes than those outside of these areas. These problems are serious, but active efforts to educate people affected by them is an amazing way to reduce the effects. So far, people across the United States and in North Carolina have worked to give low-income families access to local farmers markets through helping local corner stores and supermarkets sell local, healthy foods (specifically fruits and vegetables), and educating local communities about healthy eating and how to do it both cheaply and easily.

For example, the initiative Ada Cooks was created to provide cooking classes on nutritious meals and promote healthy lifestyles, and is based at the Ada Jenkins Center just 15 minutes from campus. Ada Cooks founder and director of health strategies, Haley Rhodes, is a current Davidson student and noticed the need for the program during her freshman year as a volunteer with Ada Jenkins’ Learn Works. As Christina Richie Rogers reported in her article “Cooking for Life,” in “Lake Norman Magazine,” the program offers three sessions a week for adults in both Spanish and English, and allows participants to take the food home with them once finished. Currently over 20 Davidson students volunteer with Ada Cooks, but the demand for volunteers is constantly growing, and what better way to contribute to the reduction of food deserts than to empower people with knowledge on healthy cooking and eating?

Davidson students who are interested in initiatives that combat food deserts have a number of options for involvement. Other than Ada Cooks, students may also get involved with Sow Much Good, which is a program that was started to grow healthy, organic fruits and vegetables for the residents of Mecklenburg County surrounded by food deserts.

Alston Lee Lippert `19 is undeclared from Columbia, South Carolina. Contact her at allippert@davidson.edu

Nicky Oyedepo `19 is undeclared from Douglasville, Georgia. Contact her at nioyedepo@davidson.edu

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