Getting Something Green Into the Food Desert

By Jean Blish Siers *

A new study out of North Carolina State University challenges the conventional wisdom of food deserts, but in doing so, emphasizes the importance of gleaning groups such as Society of St. Andrew and their ability to get nutritious fresh food into under-served neighborhoods.

Food deserts are those areas where residents have limited access to a full-service supermarket or to a car to reach one. Full-service supermarkets have a broader selection of perishable items, including produce, than do the corner and convenience stores available in many lower-income neighborhoods.

The study looked at a neighborhood in Raleigh, NC. Undergraduates created a map of all stores in the neighborhood, as well as the nearest supermarkets. It shouldn’t surprise any of us to learn that the smaller, local stores offered very little produce. But most people don’t realize that even those healthier staple options that are available cost on average 25% more than they do in supermarkets. If you’re stretching a minimum-wage paycheck, or your SNAP benefits, or a Social Security check, that’s a hit on the budget. Few of us, even if we can afford it, willingly pay 25% more for our groceries if we don’t have to.

Researchers also interviewed neighborhood residents to find out how they shop and what they eat. Again, not surprisingly, most people said they preferred to shop where prices were lower. That meant that even if they had to travel more than a mile to a supermarket, they would share rides, take the bus, or call a cab. That also raises the price of a grocery visit. Respondents said they tended to buy more food at-a-time (sometimes a month’s worth), which meant that they seldom purchased produce, which could spoil.

So even when folks don’t shop at the nearest store, they’re still not choosing and bringing home fresh produce.

The report concludes that while many folks find a way to work around the distance factor of living in a housing desert, they can’t avoid the financial limitations imposed by living there. Limited resources keep them from purchasing the most beneficial food.

Last summer, I sent one of my volunteer truck drivers for a 1,000-pound pallet of zucchini. She wasn’t sure if the neighbors in her low-income neighborhood would go for it, but she was willing to pick it up and see how much she could move. She called me the next day and said, “Ms. Jean, that zucchini was gone in a hour and people were calling asking when I could get more!” Not having to pay 99 cents a pound and lug it home on the bus made it an option for tables all over her neighborhood that night! It’s the same story for watermelons, tomatoes, corn and everything else we move.

Studies such as these underscore the importance of what Society of St. Andrew does. It’s not just keeping good food from going to waste, but helping good people eat better.

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.



In the event I, or a registered family member, suffers any illness or accident requiring emergency hospitalization, medication, or other medical assistance while participating in a gleaning event, permission is given for any medical treatment which is deemed necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. I fully understand and comprehend that reasonable care will be exercised by the adult staff for this gleaning event to protect the safety of those involved. I understand that the field supervisor’s instructions must be followed at all times, and that I am responsible for any damages caused to fields, farms, or equipment by me/my family members not following these instructions.

Photos, videos, and other images in which I, or a registered family member, appear that are taken during gleanings may be used by the Society of St. Andrew for news coverage, newsletters, reports, displays, and for other print, broadcast, web, or electronic news or promotional purposes.

I do not hold the board, members, or employees of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA,) or any volunteers liable for injury, bodily harm, accidents, or death of myself/my child during events sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew. Neither will I hold the person(s) who owns and/or operates the property from which we glean, salvage, or to which we deliver food, liable for accidents, injury, or death during the gleanings or other SoSA events.

For a PDF print version of this waiver, click here.

How the Story of the 12 Baskets is Connected to SoSA’s Name

Matthew 14:16-21

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

2 Kings 4:42-44

[…]the man of God […] said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.