Chapter 17: An exploratory study of food deserts in Utica, Mississippi
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Cities and towns across the United States are experiencing an upsurge in the proliferation of a relatively new phenomenon referred to as “(a) food desert.” The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as “any census district where at least 20 percent of the inhabitants are below the poverty line, and 33 percent live over a mile from the nearest supermarket” (USDA, 2015) where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain, particularly for those with limited or no means of transportation. The increasing phenomenon of food deserts has not limited itself to large urban areas. Indeed, they appear more prevalent in small rural towns and cities, which have little to no access to resources that provide nutritious, healthy food choices. In the deep southern state of Mississippi, the small town of Utica historically and currently is predominantly rural and is one such locale, which has been identified as having all the common characteristics of a food desert. As such, the purpose of this study is to investigate a community’s journey in improving and increasing their access to venues that offer a wide variety of healthy, nutritious food products at lower prices, including the creation/opening of farmers’ markets. It is the goal of this study to determine if there are other causal factors not previously indicated in typical reviews that can be identified and addressed. More specifically, an examination of the history of Utica is explored to provide possible indicators of forthcoming trends and patterns of development.

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