Baltimore addresses the “food desert” challenge

25 Jun

Yesterday I spoke to Seema Iyer from the Baltimore City Department of Planning about the “Virtual Supermarket Project” (VSP), an innovative initiative that allows residents of underserved urban neighborhoods to order groceries at the local library. Through grant funding, VSP subsidizes the grocery store’s delivery costs to the library and supports a full time staff person that walks new users through the online ordering process. According to Seema, the program began in March and currently fulfills 20-30 orders per week.

This project, and other approaches we have come across in cities around the US, are new solutions to the urban access food challenge. We’ve heard that 75% of consumers in certain neighborhoods buy their groceries at a corner store because they have no access to a grocery store, never mind a farmer’s market or CSA. NYC Green Carts is another approach that gets fresh produce to underserved neighborhoods but Seema says that because Baltimore does not have a “cart culture”, food stands are not as viable a model in Baltimore as they may be in other cities.

We’ll continue to post about cool approaches to the food access challenge as we come across them. Solutions that aggregate demand to allow farmers to reach consumers more easily or enable flexible distribution so people can buy good food more conveniently are popping up everywhere. It’s an exciting time to be exploring these challenges so stayed tuned!

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