Do You Live in a Food Desert? Search Your Area

A new interactive map by the USDA tracks food access across the United States.

By Asraa Mustufa May 24, 2011

The USDA introduced a mapping tool this month that tracks food deserts across the country, and includes demographic information about those living in areas without access to healthy and affordable food.

The Food Desert Locator highlights areas that are low-income and where a substantial portion of residents (at least 500 people and/or a third of the population) have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. To qualify as a low access community, residents in urban settings must reside more than one mile away from a supermarket or grocery story that contains all major food departments and makes at least $2 million in sales, or 10 miles away from one in rural settings.

Users can search the map by address, county, or zip code. It can be viewed with a topographic background where city locations, county and state boundaries are visible, or with a satellite background to see an aerial view of physical locations like housing developments, roads, malls, lakes, or rivers. Furthermore, one can view statistics on the people in each food desert – information like the number and percentage of low income residents, number and percentage of those with low access, amounts of children and senior citizens with low access, and the amount of low access housing units that do not have a vehicle.

The population characteristics come from 2000 Census data, and the map was developed by the Economic Research Service, the USDA’s economic research department. ERS used the definition of "food desert" devised by the Health Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a partnership between the Treasury Department, Health and Human Services, and the USDA that emerged as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s "Let’s Move!" initiative. This definition will be used in determining eligibility for HFFI funds to go towards expanding the availability of nutritious food and developing retail sites in food deserts. The Food Desert Locator was also designed to help policy makers, community planners, researchers, and developers to identify neighborhoods with low access to healthy and affordable food.

Using HFFI’s definition, 10 percent of census tracts in the United States qualify as a food desert, containing 13.5 million people. Eighty-two percent of these people live in urban areas. While the map does not include statistics on the race of populations in food deserts, Juell Stewart previously reported on a 2010 PolicyLink and The Food Trust report that found that African Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to live in a food desert. The report also said that eight percent of African Americans live in a tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites.

We plugged in some of our own addresses, and this is how things look in our neck of the woods. Want to see how things look near you? Do a simple search on the USDA’s Food Desert Locator.

Part of the Midwest:

Los Angeles, CA:

Bay Area, California:

Albuquerque, New Mexico: