Planting Fruit Trees in Food Deserts

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The USDA Economic Research Service publishes the Food Environment Atlas to document, county by county throughout the United States, the percentage of households with limited access to grocery stores—and therefore to adequate nutrition. The interactive map aims to provide a spatial overview of communities’ abilities to access healthy food, but, so far, it doesn’t allow users to drill down to the level of neighborhoods.

In Los Angeles County, known “food deserts” include areas of South L.A. and the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Recognizing that home-grown fruit can make a positive difference in the lives and health of people in neighborhoods traditionally bereft of fresh produce options, TreePeople concentrates its free fruit tree distribution in communities like Inglewood and Pacoima.

For the past three years, our partners at Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood have helped us give away thousands of bare-root fruit trees to households in need. As SJLI founder and urban farming pioneer D’Artagnan Scorza notes, the fruit trees go a long way to “help our community members achieve food justice.”

The research behind the USDA’s atlas factors in not just proximity to markets, but also “food environment indicators” such as food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics that influence food choices and diet quality. Although the Economic Research Service is beginning to be able to document how these factors interact in complex ways, they can’t yet make any effective policy recommendations. So it’s important that people know there are nonprofit organizations, community groups, and even offices within city government trying to address the problem of food deserts.

In Pacoima recently, TreePeople and our many community partners—Meet Each Need With Dignity (MEND), Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, State Senator Alex Padilla (20th Senate District), Project Youth Green, Network for a Healthy California – Latino Campaign, and Pacoima Beautiful—helped close the gap between people and fresh food when 1,500 more families claimed their own fruit trees to take home and plant. As KABC reported at the event, “One fruit tree can bear fruit for up to 40 years.”

Imagine food forests greening food deserts… for food justice for generations to come.

Take a look at another inspiring intervention:
Queen Park Learning Garden, Inglewood

Carolyn Gray Anderson is an editor, writer, and nonprofit communications professional in Los Angeles. She volunteers regularly with Good Karma Gardens and at the Learning Garden at Venice High School, enjoying many a meal straight from the earth. She loves TreePeople almost as much as she loves trees.