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Do you know what a food desert is? Experts tell how you can help - KBZK.com | Continuous News | Bozeman, Montana

Do you know what a food desert is? Experts tell how you can help

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A food desert is any urban area one mile from a grocery store, or a rural area 10 miles away. (MTN News photo) A food desert is any urban area one mile from a grocery store, or a rural area 10 miles away. (MTN News photo)
BOZEMAN -

Grocery store shoppers are used to seeing colorful aisles of fresh produce available year round, but what about people who live in areas without the luxury of a local grocer?

“Just the isolation that happens in a rural community in Montana, really gives you that perfect storm for creating a food desert,” said Mary Stein, program leader for the sustainable food and bioenergy systems degree at MSU.

A food desert is any urban area one mile from a grocery store or a rural area 10 miles away. Gallatin valley has just one official food desert, but many areas where grocery shopping is difficult.

“You can find even these micro food deserts in our community, you know. Think about seniors who have limited mobility and they’re really stuck in their housing situation. You could consider that particular housing unit somewhat of a food desert as well,” Stein said.

“Some of the areas that we think about a lot are Clarkston and Four Corners area, perhaps even Gallatin Gateway,” said Jill Holder, operations manager at the Gallatin Valley Food Bank.

How are food deserts created?

“We used to have a situation in rural communities where the independent grocery store was kind of the center for food access, as the populations have declined in rural America, we’ve seen a lot of those independent grocery stores close up,” said Stein.

Then, people begin to rely on convenience stores, which frequently lack fresh produce.

“We see that food desert communities have higher rates of obesity, higher instances of cardiovascular disease, and Type-II diabetes,” said Stein.

Food deserts are not only in lower socioeconomic areas, but people with fewer resources are lesser equipped to healthily deal with them. One way to help is to check on neighbors, specifically senior citizens or those that lack transportation, especially in the winter months.

“One example from last night, we saw a family from Clarkston, and when I knew that they were from Clarkston because it is so remote, I gave them a lot of extra food to deliver to people that they knew in the area,” Stein said.

But shoppers with limited grocery store trips can also  target their grocery store list to stocking up on foods with a longer shelf life.

“Certainly going to dried or dehydrated fruits and vegetables are an option, canned is certainly better than nothing at all, you know there’s a lot of great healthy meals that can be made with canned fruits and vegetables,” Stein said.

Another short term solution is the Gallatin Valley Food Bank’s community food truck which brings fresh foods to different parts of the county.

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