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The discussion about "food deserts" in recent years has largely focused on the lack of access to food in urban areas. But, as a cool new map released by the USDA this week shows, when it comes to finding fresh, healthy food, ironically, farm country has it pretty rough too. Also in this week's roundup: Prince Charles keynotes the Washington Post's Future of Food event, energy consumption rising in food production and the Gates', the Fords and the Kelloggs announce a new foundation help bridge the gap between sustainable and industrial ag.

Roundup: Food Deserts Aren’t Just Urban Anymore and Prince Charles on the ‘Future of Food’

The discussion about “food deserts” in recent years has largely focused on the lack of access to food in urban areas. But, as a cool new map released by the USDA this week shows, when it comes to finding fresh, healthy food, ironically, farm country has it pretty rough too.

On the Food Desert Locator map, food deserts are highlighted in red. As you can see here, the Rockies and the high plains in particular, light up (click on the image to open the full map):

The agency defined a food desert like this:

A food desert is a low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

“Low income” tracts are defined as those where at least 20 percent of the people have income at or below the federal poverty levels for family size, or where median family income for the tract is at or below 80 percent of the surrounding area’s median family income.

Tracts qualify as “low access” tracts if at least 500 persons or 33 percent of their population live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).

This definition was developed by a working group comprised of members from the departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services, and USDA, which is partnering to expand the availability of nutritious food.

The Food Desert Locator map is similar to another map released last year by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, which looked at food choices, food access and health, but did not focus on food deserts. You can see that map here.

For more information on access to food in rural places and specifically, the role grocery stores play in rural communities, the Center for Rural Affairs, which works on these issues on a national level, covers the topic here.

FUTURE OF FOOD CONFERENCE

Elsewhere in food and ag news this week, Prince Charles was the big to do in Washington on Wednesday at the  Future of Food conference at Georgetown University.

The Prince — known for his green bent and in particular, his attention to food — and his keynote address were the star of the show at the event, which also featured Montana Senator and farmer Jon Tester, (see this report from the Billings Gazette on Tester’s remarks, in which he said GMOs were undermining family farms) White House Chef Sam Kass, farmer and writer Wendell Barry and Will Allen of Growing Power Farm, to name a few. (Some within agribusiness weren’t happy with the lineup, criticizing the organizer, the Washington Post, of leaving out production agriculture. See this post from AgWired.)

Here’s a recap of the Prince’s address:

Prince Charles Speaks Out Against Factory Farming, New York Times

Prince Charles Criticizes Gov’t Farm Subsidies, NPR

Prince Charles urges US not to overtax Mother Nature, AFP

And, the raw video from the Associated Press:

AGRICULTURE AND ENERGY

The industrial food system may be more productive in some respects (read up on the “feeding the world” debate here), but when it comes to energy consumption, the word “efficient” isn’t likely to apply to conventional agriculture, according to a report from CNBC.com.

A few of the stats from the report:

  • Energy consumption per capital fell by 1 percent between 2002 and 2007 but for food, consumption grew almost 8 percent.
  • 80 percent of the national increase in consumption between 1997 and 2002 was food related.
  • In 2007, food production accounted for 16 percent of the nation’s energy spending.

FOOD AND FOUNDATIONS

Bill and Melinda Gates, the Ford Family and the Kelloggs announced this week that they’re all teaming up to put some finally put some major foundational support into food.


According to Bloomberg:

Their initiative, called AGree, announced today in Washington, will fund agricultural research and analysis that will consider the needs of rural economies and the environment as well as energy and health issues as the world population surges by 38 percent over the next four decades.

But, here’s the more interesting part:

The foundations’ initiative is also meant to foster dialogue between large, industrial growers of staple foods such as corn and soybeans and organic farmers concerned about the environment, said Gary Hirshberg, the chief executive officer of Stonyfield Farm Inc., a Londonderry, New Hampshire-based unit of Danone SA of Paris.

BRIDGING THE GAP

Smoothing relations between sustainable and industrial is a lofty goal, but first, the name calling has to stop, as evidenced by author Eric Schlosser’s op-ed in the Washington Post this week, titled, “Why being a foodie isn’t ‘elitist.

One quick quip from the piece:

This name-calling is a form of misdirection, an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies.

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Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer and editor (formerly of these pages) who also runs Prairie Heritage Farm, a small farm in Central Montana. She and her husband grow vegetables, turkeys, ancient and heritage grains and sometimes a little ruckus. As a farmer and writer, she works on and follows food and agriculture issues closely and each week, rounds up the top stories on the web in this arena for New West. Have an ag story you think should be included in next week’s roundup? You can reach Courtney at courtney@newwest.net.

About Courtney Lowery