In a section of Seattle's Delridge neighborhood, residents who rely on public transportation face a daunting choice: take two buses to get to the nearest grocery store–or trek up a large hill. “What we found was that most people were either going to the grocery store much more infrequently, or they were becoming heavily dependent on convenience stores,” says Carrie Ferrence, a cofounder of Stockbox markets who studied access to fresh food in the city while completing her M.B.A. at Seattle's Bainbridge Graduate Institute.
That scenario is typical of urban food deserts–city neighborhoods with poor access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthy foods. While there is no official measure of how scarce a carrot has to be for an area to qualify as a desert, a 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 23.5 million people live in low-income neighborhoods more than a mile from a supermarket, which could contribute to poor eating habits, obesity, and diet-related diseases. But in the vacuum left by traditional stores, urban innovators are experimenting with alternative models for delivering fresh food to underserved areas.