Inaccessibility to Fresh Produce in Low-Income Communities

Inaccessibility to Fresh Produce in Low-Income Communities


We identified the problem of low-income communities having a lack of access to fresh produce. From less grocery stores in low income communities (leading to longer commutes in order to obtain produce, or simply not obtaining produce at all), a distinct lack of farmers' markets in low-income communities, no or poorly maintained community gardens, a greater abundance of highly processed and refined foods in markets available in these communities as opposed to higher end areas, and higher prices for produce in markets that are available, there are clear disparities that markedly reduce fresh fruit and vegetable access.

Team Information

About the Problem

Problem Category


Problem Context

This problem has to do with the difficulty of access or lack of access to fresh produce, and the issues we have seen while growing up in several different areas of the Central Valley. From some of us in low-income areas of Stockton who viewed a lack of grocery stores, wilted or rotting produce, etc, others who use food pantries or food drives to obtain food and notice an unfortunate lack of fresh, quality produce or variety, to others who notice incredibly high prices to these even in agricultural areas, fresh produce is something essential to a healthy diet, future mindful decisions and long-term physical and mental health. To explain in more detail, even in grocery stores or markets near or in these neighborhoods, the selection of fresh produce is small and extremely expensive as compared to the processed, frozen, canned, or typically labeled “junk” food sections. For families that struggle to make ends meet and have little time, these lower cost and fast alternatives to fresh produce will be the obvious choice day in and day out when buying food for themselves, or any other people they support. This is important to address as not having a balanced diet can have several negative effects on health (i.e. higher instances of diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity, an increase in fatigue/mental fog, sluggishness, or impacts on development), mental health (i.e. higher instances of depression due to poor diet), and, due to these two, detrimental effects on learning ability as well

How did you identify this problem?

We identified this problem by discussing issues that we see as important. We identified a couple of problems before we settled on the issue of inaccessibility to fresh produce for low-income communities. Our group discussed problems we see everyday and basic necessities that we all need before landing on fresh produce because it’s something we all need, but many don’t have. We discussed our experiences in our communities, specifically Stockton, with grocery stores and lacking produce, the difficulty of finding produce when your source of food are food pantries or food drives, and the higher prices of produce as opposed to processed foods with larger volumes (as this specifically causes an issue where someone needing food will most likely choose cheaper processed or refined items with provide more food for longer, as opposed to higher priced and a lower quantity of fresh produce). On a similar note, getting the fresh produce required for quite a bit cultural dishes, which are important to the diverse Central Valley, can be difficult enough, as well. We found we had all seen these throughout our lives and experiences, and factored in even the restaurants usually full of "junk" food being in low-income communities, while other areas have sometimes cheaper, healthier options.

Problem Details

Who are those affected by this problem?

People who are affected by a lack of fresh produce are often low-income. They tend to live in less well off communities where they don’t have access to fresh produce whether it be because there aren’t any grocery stores nearby or there are financial issues.

How often does this problem occur?

This problem of access to fresh produce happens often in low-income communities, on a day to day basis. The lack of access to produce even increased because of the pandemic, which caused food supplies to be in a shortage all over the world, and prices to sky-rocket on perishables or hard to transport goods (produce).

How long has the problem been going on?

The lack of access to fresh produce had been going on for decades, even before the pandemic began. Low-income communities do not have access to fresh produce because they are not prioritized when it comes to the fresh food supply in the region or they could not afford the high price of fresh produce. As a result, most of them choose to eat cheap, fast food that is more filling even if they know it's unhealthy.

Is the problem disrupting the community? How?

The inaccessibility to fresh produce in low-income communities prevents families from obtaining fresh produce for their meals and denying their ability to eat nutritious foods that are otherwise necessary for a healthy diet. This has an impact on future health, as not only are individuals put at a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems due to a poor diet, but the families and specifically children who grow up with less access may be likely to struggle as adults to make and acquire food options with fresh fruits and vegetables as healthy eating habits are not (and cannot be) formed early in their lives.

Is the issue perceived as a problem by the community at large?

This issue does not always seem to be perceived as a problem by low-income communities in Stockton and elsewhere at large; inaccessibility to fresh produce is often seen as a personal struggle within these communities, something that is not important as long as food is obtained - but our group strongly believes that the introduction of a solution to this problem will allow these communities to realize the true benefits of having fresh produce readily available for their regular meals.

Is the problem limited to certain geographic areas?

The problem is not limited to certain geographic areas, but it is limited to specific socioeconomic areas, which historically may be the “less desirable” geographic areas like a dry region, places with little rain or extreme weather conditions, or areas prone to flooding. However, this problem is not directly tied to specific geographic areas, it is, namely, anywhere that is a low-income community with a lack of or difficult access to fresh produce.

Who are the Stakeholders, those wanting this problem to be fixed?

Stakeholders in this issue are those who want more fresh produce and are low income. Additionally, people who are passionate about people getting the right nutrition that they need to be healthy and have nutritious food will be stakeholders in this issue.

Addressing the Problem

Are you aware of any solutions, approaches, or efforts to tackle this problem?

A possible solution to this problem could be a community garden at a location such as a high school. Students could help manage the garden and community members could come gather produce when it was time for harvest. Through the community garden, people could also learn how to grow produce on their own. While community gardens have been implemented in some areas with varying degrees of success, we believe that a community garden with a few additions and tweaks may work better. We found that the introduction of a community garden in or near the school would provide an incentive for not only older families that live nearby, but also all young students who attend the school to put their effort into learning how to garden. It would allow people in the area to learn a new skill, while also giving them the ability to practice resourcefulness in determining which plants would thrive in the area. Collaboration would be achieved as everyone would have the ability to work together to keep the community garden alive. While food insecurity involves a plethora of factors such as geographic location and socio-economic status which are difficult to accommodate, the problem of getting fresh produce within itself can be solved by having a community garden. A community garden functions as a place where members of a neighborhood can come together to plant fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other plants. Community gardens have the power to transform an often vacant and unused place that no one thinks to look at, into something amazing. In “What Is a Community Garden- Benefits & How to Start Your Own,” one benefit of having a community garden is explained as “Community gardens are part of the sharing economy. They make it possible for many people to enjoy a resource – in this case, land for gardening – that they couldn’t afford on their own.” In Stockton, a great place to have a community garden could be the local high school in a low-income neighborhood. Ronald E. McNair high school perfectly fits this mold and has a plethora of extra space. Having a community garden at a high school also brings the benefits of having high school students who could help manage the garden. They could be given the incentive of getting extra credit or community service hours. A club such as Garden Club could also help take care of the plants if there are students who have an interest in gardening. When it comes to the plants in the garden, there is clearly a large variety of things to choose from. However, fruits and vegetables that people are accustomed to using and that are easy to grow are the priority. They should also be versatile in use so that they can be used across the art of cooking and baking. An example of such a plant is a lemon. Lemons can be used in savory dishes, in baking, to garnish a dish, and for medicinal use. Furthermore, the community garden could have a composting site where people could bring the peels of fruits and vegetables they used and it could be turned into fertilizer that would go back into the garden. This way, there would be no waste. The community garden could also be used as a place of education. After all, it is at a high school. At the start of a new planting season, community members could come and learn from each other on how to plant different fruits, vegetables, and herbs so everyone can gain knowledge on a variety of plants. This would also help people set up their own gardens in their backyards and gain independence from the garden and expensive grocery stores.

What are the obstacles you are aware of to address the problem?

Some obstacles we are aware of are finding a place that will let us have our garden there and if there will even be an interest in maintaining the garden. Additionally, community support of a project such as this, whether that be economically, or as said before, with interest, may be difficult.

What are the success criteria that could be defined to address this problem?

Some success criteria includes high school student and community participation, as well as the specific measurement of produce acquisition per week in these communities (i.e. making a note of how many families get produce per week for a year, and how much each item is asked for/given out).