But with the right strategies, food access can increase in these deserts, drastically improving quality of life. Farmers markets are one example. Michigan has 250 farmers markets, however, those in poorer, rural communities often lack the facilities required to provide and sell a variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy. And area residents are often unaware that affordable healthy food is available right in their own neighborhoods.

Tackling the Problem in Michigan

With a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we helped minority farmers with small- and mid-size farms increase crop production and get their goods to farmers markets by providing micro loans. We also provided small grants to farmers markets to help expand and strengthen their operations. Additional grants to community groups helped develop educational demonstrations, activities at rural farmers markets and coupons for families to use at the market to purchase fresh produce.

In 2013, we implemented a program that provided coupons for kids to use at the farmers market. We conducted a focus group of the program and learned that the coupons resulted in higher consumption of fruits and vegetables in vulnerable children and became a significant reason why families attended the market. The coupons also provided budget relief, nutrition variety, nutrition education and critical support for the local food economy.

Our Green Infrastructure team also created a set of maps to illustrate the variables that determine greatest need, such as the locations of food deserts and minority-owned farms. Together, they provided the information needed to determine the best places to disperse grant money. You can download the maps by clicking the links below:

Why This Project Matters
More than 7,800 farmers markets currently operate in the U.S.—more than double the number from a decade ago. Farmers markets go beyond providing healthy food to the community. They also boost the local economy, build community, support local farmers and stimulate respect for the natural environment. Our efforts are helping bridge the gap between markets, producers and consumers, and are encouraging disadvantaged families to eat healthier and make the right food choices.  We've concluded the project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, but have implemented similar work through our CSX funded project in West Virginia. Learn more about that work here.