Making the (Food) Desert Bloom

foodsecflay.jpgSome of the best minds in the food business gathered recently at the Springs Preserve to discuss a problem most citizens don’t even know we have: food security. It was the first step in the formation of the Vegas Valley Community Food Council.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 14 Las Vegas census tracts as “food deserts”—areas with limited access to affordable, nutritious food. Three Square Food Bank reports that in some areas of the city, more than 25 percent of residents experience “food insecurity,” which it defines as lack of access either to enough food or to nutritionally adequate food.

There are many challenges to overcome in the local food system: Growing produce is challenging in the desert. Prices of locally grown products are caught between too expensive for locals to afford, and not expensive enough for the farmers to make a living. Regulations, designed for industrial food production, shut individuals and small farms out of the process. Many politicians are ignorant of the issues involved. And while co-ops are scraping to make a living and people are going hungry, hotels are throwing tons of food into the garbage or donating it to pig farms.

Then, there’s the looming threat: Due to limited freeway access into and out of town, grocery-store shelves could empty out in as little as 48 hours following a major disaster, according to a City of Las Vegas representative at the meeting.

Fewer than two dozen people were at the meeting, but they included big brains from the Southern Nevada Health District, Three Square, the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and a smattering of farms and community gardens. The aim, said Thomas Coleman, director of community health for the Southern Nevada Health District, is to bring together creative thinking and resources from both the public and private sectors.

“The reality is, the government can’t do this by itself; the community has to get involved,” he said. “There is no Department of Food.”

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