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How access to fresh produce varies across America

  • How access to fresh produce varies across America

    As climate change threatens the global food supply, how countries feed themselves has become increasingly complex in the past century. This is especially true in America where there has been a dramatic decline in the American agricultural labor force, the disappearance of farms, and an increased reliance on imported goods.

    From 1950–1990, America saw a 74% drop in the number of family and self-employed farm labor, and between 2007 and 2012 the United States lost more than 90,000 farms. Today more than 50% of America’s fruit is imported, and about a third of the vegetables in the supermarket are from another country.

    This is a time when food insecurity exists simultaneously with an obesity crisis, with only 12% of American adults meeting the daily recommended fruit intake and even less meeting the daily recommended vegetable intake. When you look at the national averages, this shouldn’t be the case: There are 2.7 farmers markets per 100,000 residents, 41.8% of school districts participate in farm-to-school programs, and 44.8% of middle and high schools offer salad bars.

    On top of that, there are 234 local food policy councils that help make sure state and local food systems are working, and they often work to increase access to nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables. There are also 212 food hubs that actively manage the entire consumer chain of locally and regionally grown food. In short, food hubs make it easier to access locally grown produce.

    While the United States is producing more food than ever before, the problem is many communities don’t have access to healthy food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. This is concerning because research has shown that poor diet is one of the leading risk factors for disability and death.

    To explore how access to fresh produce varies from state to state, Stacker consulted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2018 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, which includes the most recent statistics available. The report pulls together data from various country-wide government surveys: the numbers of farmers markets per 100,000 residents are up to date as of 2017; the percentages of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs are accurate as of 2014; the percentages of middle and high schools offering salad bars are from 2016; the numbers of local food policy councils are from 2018, and the numbers of food hubs are up to date as of 2017.

    Read on to find out more about access to produce in your state.

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  • Alabama

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 2.9 (7.4% above national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 30.8% (26.3% below national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 41.7% (6.9% below national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 1
    - Number of food hubs: 1

    Food deserts—areas with limited access—still pose a big problem for many rural communities in Alabama. Last year, an online farmers market was introduced in the state and now Birmingham’s Till lets customers buy food from local farmers for pick-up or delivery.

  • Alaska

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 5.3 (96.3% above national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 76.3% (82.5% above national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 26.1% (41.7% below national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 0
    - Number of food hubs: 3

    For Alaskans eating healthy is challenging. Cold weather and lack of sunlight limits produce that can grow in the region. Harsh winters can make fresh produce deliveries sparse, which is problematic considering 95% of its food comes from elsewhere. Fresh food is also more expensive; a single orange can sometimes cost $5.

  • Arizona

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 1.3 (51.9% below national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 25.3% (39.5% below national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 49.5% (10.5% above national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 3
    - Number of food hubs: 3

    Due to its proximity to the Mexican border and the port of entry city Nogales, fresh produce is one of the major economic drivers in Arizona. According to one University of Arizona study, the state is the tomato import capital of the United States. And while it may not be thought of as a big accomplishment, tomatoes created more than 33,000 full- and part-time jobs and contributed $4.8 billion to the state’s economy.

  • Arkansas

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 3.6 (33.3% above national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 22.3% (46.7% below national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 40.9% (8.7% below national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 0
    - Number of food hubs: 2

    Arkansas has the most food deserts in the United States. Every county has at least one area that’s considered a food desert. However, there is an increase in efforts such as mobile markets to help bring fresh produce to people living in food deserts.

  • California

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 1.9 (29.6% below national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 54.9% (31.3% above national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 54.8% (22.3% above national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 29
    - Number of food hubs: 14

    California is the largest and most diverse agricultural state in America. It produces 13% of the crops in the United States, and is the nation's only producer of walnuts, kiwis, and pomegranates. But according to a study published in a 2018 issue of the journal Agronomy, almost all those crops will be endangered by climate change. Throughout the past 10 years, the state has seen wildfires, droughts, floods, and storms decimate entire crops. Like many other states, California has food insecure communities

    Charitable organization Food Forward helps get fresh produce into the hands of low-income people across eight Southern California counties, while also preventing food waste by donating surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste. 

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  • Colorado

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 2.8 (3.7% above national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 41.8% (0% below national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: Data not available
    - Number of local food policy councils: 16
    - Number of food hubs: 3

    Colorado’s leading fruit crops are peaches and apples. The climate in Colorado—warm days and cool nights—helps bring out the sweetness in fruit. According to the Colorado government, the state produced 27.5 million pounds of peaches in 2016.

  • Connecticut

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 4.3 (59.3% above national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 70.3% (68.2% above national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 37.1% (17.2% below national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 5
    - Number of food hubs: 2

    New Haven has the best school wellness policies, according to research by Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at UConn. She analyzed the wellness policies that were implemented in 2006 at each school across Connecticut; she found the policies that support healthy eating were better in schools reporting that more students were below the poverty line. “We thought the wealthier districts would have stronger policies, but we found the opposite,” Schwartz said in an interview with CT Mirror.

  • Delaware

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 3.8 (40.7% above national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 60% (43.5% above national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 12.8% (71.4% below national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 0
    - Number of food hubs: 0

    Produce Junction in Delaware is a store that specializes in fresh produce only. The store only has three sections: fruit, vegetables and flowers. It’s also known for stocking exotic fruits and vegetables not typically found in the state.

  • Florida

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 1.2 (55.6% below national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 45% (7.7% above national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 16.4% (63.4% below national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 8
    - Number of food hubs: 4

    Oranges are one of Florida’s most famous crops. After tourism, it’s the state’s second-largest industry. But last year 90% of the state’s citrus crops were infected with a bacterium that prevents the fruit from ripening properly. The result has been a devastating knock-on effect on the farming and orange juice industry.

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  • Georgia

    - Farmers markets per 100,000 residents: 1.5 (44.4% below national average)
    - Share of school districts participating in farm-to-school programs: 61.6% (47.4% above national average)
    - Share of middle and high schools offering salad bars: 28.6% (36.2% below national median)
    - Number of local food policy councils: 2
    - Number of food hubs: 7

    Behind California and Florida, Georgia is the third largest producer of fresh fruit and vegetables. The climate along with the diversity of soil allows for Georgia to produce an abundance of fresh produce year-round.