A Tale of Two Food Deserts

Growing healthy communities when fresh food isn't around the corner.

By Katie Walker

Photography by Bob Stefko & Kalen Severe


Muhammad says getting people to buy things like kale isn't a problem—they aren't ignorant about vegetables; they just haven't had access to them. What is a challenge is convincing older customers about the importance of organics. The last time they had such a wide range of choices, chemical and pesticide residues weren't as much of an issue. Kendall College creates recipes for customers, and a bulletin board allows people to share healthy family recipes. Casey's most touching interaction came with an older woman who was standing at the end of the line, waiting to get on the truck. "I asked her, 'What do you think about the bus?' 'Love it.' 'When's the last time you saw something like this?' 'You ain't old enough. I've lived here 60 years. If [food] corporations gave a damn, they'd have done this themselves. It has to have someone who cares differently in order to turn the corner. Clearly you give a damn.'"

Three years ago, there was one community garden in all of Grant County. Now there are eight, and that number is growing. Each garden chooses its own beneficiary: One children's garden grows produce to sell at the farmers' market, another's produce goes to a local food pantry, and yet another is a gleaning garden for whomever happens to walk by. The gardens favor traditional foods that have been grown in the area for centuries, including squash, corn, apples, tomatoes, and tomatillos. The key to successful growing in New Mexico? Strategic watering.

Edwards is amazed at how the gardens have "created this idea of possibility... In 3 years, the topic of food and how we're going to deal with food issues has exploded in this county." Recently, "a little girl came to a garden and harvested a tomato. The next day she was back with her parents saying that this is what she wants to do. The first time kids eat something they've grown, that makes it all worth it."

"Start a Revolution"
The future is bright in Chicago and New Mexico, although it isn't without work. In Chicago, Pinzino wants to inspire mainstream grocers to come back to the area. "If they would leave the neighborhood stereotypes behind," he says, "they would see that there's real opportunity here."

Edwards, for her part, envisions a garden on every corner in Grant County. She says TVC is still tackling the problem of access to transportation in such a large, sparsely populated county. The next goal is a food-security center, which will house a garden, a food pantry, and a space for food education. She has seen how access to food can change a community. She knows that "we can start a revolution with gardening, and we need to do that everywhere." •

Find some of Kendall College's recipes for Fresh Moves at OrganicGardening.com/freshmoves.