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Food Deserts Thirst for Fresh Solutions

Deserts may generate images of endless sand dunes, cacti and small lizard-like animals struggling to stay out of the sun.

In the health policy world, the word “desert” often refers to something quite different: an area without a grocery store, where fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce, otherwise known as a food desert.

Food deserts in Colorado tend to be located in low-income or rural areas. But even urban areas in Denver struggle to access affordable healthy foods.  About 759,000 Coloradans, including 80,000 children, lived in a food desert in 2010. As Colorado’s population grows over the next five years, providing healthy foods for more people is emerging as an important health policy issue.

This week the Colorado Health Institute is exploring how to water these deserts with fresh and healthy foods. 

Our third installment of Better by Design, a series of reports on the connection between the built environment and health, brings to light the pressing problems of food deserts and what some local organizations are doing about it. 

Solutions in Colorado are varied, from weekly farmers’ markets to financing corner stores so that they can provide more fresh foods. Initiatives have come from the White House, state government and local organizations. 

We are spotlighting efforts in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood, where one of the biggest projects in the state around food deserts is taking place. Residents, with the help of Re:Vision, a nonprofit, are overhauling an old junkyard to create a greenhouse, grocery store and community area. The goal is to increase the access to healthy foods for 20,000 residents. For a neighborhood that hasn’t had a grocery store since the 1990s, this is a big step forward in promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Stay tuned for more installments in our series. Allie Morgan and I will be diving into transportation and affordable housing in Colorado. Don’t forget to check out our previous reports on creating walkable neighborhoods and the innovative financing being used for some of these large projects.