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Urban farming increasing access for families in food swamps

Posted at 6:16 AM, Feb 04, 2021

PHOENIX — Arizona families are struggling to put food on the table during the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecurity is a major issue plaguing many communities, especially when it comes to accessing healthy, fresh foods. Experts say they are concerned about food swamps, or areas where fast-food chains and convenience stores outnumber healthy food options.

Dr. Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, a researcher and professor at Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions, studies how community food environments impact families, specifically children. She says food swamps impact metro and rural communities.

"In Arizona, for example, in metro areas, you have about maybe 13-30% of the population that has limited access to grocery stores or supermarkets. In rural areas, those numbers are 40-70%," Ohri-Vachaspati said.

According to a survey conducted by ASU researchers, nearly one in three households experienced food insecurity during the pandemic. Hispanic families, households with kids, and households with a job disruption were more likely to become food insecure. As a result, many are having to turn to food banks for support.

Fresh veggies and fruits are going from the farm to the kitchen table with the help of St. Vincent de Paul's Urban Farm. Dave Smith, the director of the Urban Farm, says it provides 30,000 pounds of food per year.

"It's our volunteers that carry the day to both plant, weed, cultivate and harvest the food that goes into the kitchen," Smith said.

If you would like to volunteer at the Urban farm, you can sign up for a shift on St. Vincent de Paul's website. The food bank is also providing those in need with grab-and-go meals from its five dining rooms across the Valley.