Mike Devlin’s Oasis in the Camden Food Desert

 

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The Camden Children’s Garden’s display at the Philadelphia Flower Show Photo Credit: South Jersey Magazine

A food desert is a place where there is no access to fresh, healthy produce or other foods. There are two types of food deserts in the U.S.  Urban food deserts are low-income areas located in the city that have no access to a grocery store, which sells fresh food within a mile of where someone lives.  In rural food deserts, the area expands to a ten-mile low-access area, which has no retail store with fresh food available. These figures are determined by census tracts.

The USDA states that 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts.  More than half of those are low-income, which also means they may not have readily available transportation to travel to where there is fresh, healthy food. An additional problem lies in the availability of fast food restaurants and convenience stores, which are more readily available, and could be contributing to the obesity and health problems of our country.

To see where these food deserts are located, go to the USDA Food Access Research Atlas.

One of these places is Camden, New Jersey — noted at various times to be the poorest city in the country and/or the most dangerous. It is also noted as being one of the nine worst food deserts in the U.S. There’s one social entrepreneur who has been trying to change that. It’s been a 30-year quest that Mike Devlin has been on to provide Camden residents with fresh produce. And, it looks like things are starting to turn around.

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2014 Philadelphia Flower Show Camden Children’s Garden – Photo Credit: Dyogi

Devlin, executive director of Camden City Garden Club, founded the organization in 1985 with his wife Valerie. He has worked tirelessly, turning empty city lots into community gardens so that people can have fresh vegetables.  So far, there are 130 of these gardens throughout the city, and a study by the state of Pennsylvania found that  having produced the equivalent of $2.3 million in food for 2013.

Many offshoots of the Garden Club were born including Camden Children’s Garden, Community Gardening and Greening, Grow Lab, the Community Youth Employment Program, and the mobile market — a truck filled with locally grown fresh produce offered to Camden residents at reasonable prices.

 

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