What Are Food Deserts? And What Is the SF Foundation Doing About Them?

Throughout San Francisco, world-class fish and farmers' markets pop up on a daily basis to provide fresh, locally grown food for the masses. The city's restaurants also consistently rank as some of the best in the world. (See San Francisco Foundation: Bay Area Grants.)

But within the city's seven-by-seven-mile boundaries, low-income residents don't always have access to fresh food. Instead, "food deserts" are overwhelming the city's poorest neighborhoods — Hunters Point, Bayview, and Vistacion Valley — where fast-food restaurants and convenience stores are more accessible than fish markets and organic farmers markets.

According to a report from NewsOne, 20% of San Francisco's residents skip buying food to pay bills, and the city's food deserts rank as some of the most impactful in the country. A recent partnership between the San Francisco Foundation and several agricultural and public works groups hopes to address the lack of access to fresh food in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

The goal is simple: to provide healthy food for all of the city's residents.

Marla Wilson, a program fellow in the San Francisco Foundation's environment program, recently wrote about the new Healthy Food for All initiative, noting that it was in line with the environment program's revamped funding guidelines. The new guidelines, Wilson wrote, "reflect a climate resilience framework, with a focus on food access for low-income people and communities of color."

Working with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the foundation and its partners will help establish large urban agriculture projects in two San Francisco neighborhoods. The Healthy Food for All program will also train and educate leaders in low-income neighborhoods.

The program has a wide reach, and the foundation has employed the expertise of several local organizations to tackle the city's food deserts. People's Grocery will work in the two communities to best determine how to use the new urban agriculture plots, and partners Greenbelt Alliance, SAGE, and American Farmland Trust will develop an economic plan for local food to provide long-term stability.

To launch Healthy Food for All, the foundation received three-year matching funds from the Convergence Innovation Fund. And the foundation has a plan to get the program off the ground. "Over the years, we will tap into the expertise and know-how of 27 other current and former Innovation Fund grantees, craft policy solutions, and share what we learn on a national stage," Wilson wrote.

"Now is the time to take bold risks to promote a more resilient region. Through Healthy Food for All, underutilized sites will be transformed into food hubs for low-income communities and communities of color," she added. "This is what community resilience looks like."