I deeply appreciated this two-part series in the Clarion-Ledger that tackles the devastating topic of food deserts in Mississippi Delta. "There are just four grocery stores in the 765-square-mile county, in four towns," writes Anna Wolfe. In one town of 1,300 people, there is no store at all. Consider also that one-third of Delta residents don't have a car in their household, and there's no such thing as public transportation in the Delta. This means many families go hungry, or eat food with no nutritional value.
Food scarcity can also be traced to industrial agriculture, which use chemicals and pesticides to destroy soil. In the Delta today nearly half the population has obesity; a fifth has diabetes. It has the highest rates of food insecurity in the country.
Here are some excerpts from Anna Wolfe's piece, including one promising community effort in Holmes County, Mississippi:
The co-op's youth-in-agriculture project, which began in 2015, partners farmers and young people. While giving them an opportunity to earn money, the farmers teach students and older apprentices how to grow and harvest vegetables.
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon after school let out, a dozen Holmes County Central High School students gathered on a pre-plowed field behind the run-down mart.
Bill Evans, director of horticulture with Up in Farms Food Hub, which partners with Mileston, received blank stares after telling the group of 16- and 17-year-olds that the tray of tiny sprouts he carried would grow into cauliflower.
"You know what broccoli looks like?" Evans asked. "Imagine a white one of those."
Many of them had never eaten the vegetable that they'd spend the rest of the day planting. Head searched for pictures of cauliflower on his cellphone and passed it between the teens.
"We used to walk outside and get a pear — and that was my snack," Head said. "Now they got to go to the store and buy flaming hot Cheetos. They decorate these stores to target our children … and we're hungry so we eat it."
Over the last several decades, national farm policy has increasingly prioritized driving down the cost of commodity crops — like soybeans, the crop dominating fields all over Holmes County — while providing relatively little support for fruits and vegetables.
The food industry has responded, finding more ways to use additives from these cheap crops in processed foods.
Most everywhere in the country, this has resulted in heavily processed diets and a sharp increase in obesity.