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Poverty In My Back Yard

Being poor sucks, and I’m not just talking about the “oh crap, I partied too hard last weekend and now I can’t pay my light bill” poor. I’m talking about the people who have next to nothing, live on next to nothing, and eat next to nothing.

Mapping Poverty in America

Using the interactive Mapping Poverty in America map provided by the New York Times, I learned that the neighborhood I call home has a poverty rate of 23.2%. That’s a fraction under 1/4 of the population. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I am less than a 2-minute walk from an area with a poverty rate of 47.7%, and areas that are lower than 23% are the exception in my area. In 2012, to qualify as being impoverished, a family of four could make no more than $23,283, while any individual under the age of 65 could make no more than $11,945.

NOTE: The map link above refers to 2012, but this 2013 report verifies that the number of people in poverty did not change between 2012 and 2013.

USDA Food Access Research Atlas

This map from the USDA Food Access Research Atlas using census data shows two things: tracts with over 100 households without vehicles (purple) and tracts with over 33% of households that are 1/2 mile or more from a grocery store (green). For clarification, everything that is marked purple is also green.

“Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in
impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores,
farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”

mass transit timeThe nearest grocery store is 2 miles away from my address and it lacks decent fresh produce on a good day. The nearest food options that are 1 mile or less are fast food chains, neither of which would be classified as a grocery store, farmers’ market, or healthy food provider. If I didn’t have a car, I would be limited to the use of mass transit. As you can see from the image above, that trip via bus would take about 30 minutes, not including the time it took to walk to the bus and wait on the bus (both ways). Don’t forget that you’re riding the bus, so you can only buy what you can carry. And if the weather is bad or the bus is just late? Sucks to be you.

I share this information so that people will have a better understanding as to why I am a gardening and healthy food advocate. You don’t have to go to third world countries to see people starving to death. Right in our back yard children are suffering from obesity and malnutrition at the same time because they are surviving on a diet of prepackaged and drive-thru meals that are more filler than actual food.

In 2015 I will return often to these topics because as a society we need to know what is causing the issues of the day. Without many exceptions, it can be traced back to poverty and food insecurity. This year I promise to work harder than ever to research and offer solutions to these issues while teaching a new generation the many benefits of growing your own food. I promise to bring that information not just to the readers of this website, but also to my neighbors – the people in my back yard who are living in poverty.

There is something I can do, and I’m not going to stop until I feel as though I have done it.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Jeavonna January 7, 2015, 3:28 pm

    Thanks for posting and for standing strong.

  • Hope January 7, 2015, 8:55 pm


  • Dody February 23, 2016, 12:27 am

    I live 5 miles from a grocery store. That grocery store has half an isle of fresh foods. Bagged potatoes, bagged apples, and in December bagged oranges make up a quarter of it. The frozen section has just one freezer of fresh vegetables. There are two freezers devoted to fish sticks, chicken patties, and other things that are very processed. There is one cooler for dairy, half of which is dips for chips, fake sour cream, or imitation cheese. The deli operates, but closes before the store does and only sells meats. When asked to make a salad, they said no, even though it clearly says they make them. There is one isle of canned vegetables, of which chili without beans is considered a vegetable.

    If I want to eat anything as exotic as parsnips, bell peppers that are not green, rutabagas, arugula, fresh mint, fresh basil, honey dew, or purple cabbage, I need to drive 35 miles away or grow it. Fresh kraut must be made at home, because it can not be found within 50 miles at any price. The same for elderberries, carrots any color other than orange, tomatoes any color other than red, and a host of other delicious fruits and vegetables. We do have a farmer’s market but they focus on things that the grocery store already has at a cheaper price.

    As a result, due to necessity, I have learned to grow food. This year will be particularly difficult, as I can not longer afford food out of the grocery store and maintain a diet that is not 90% carbohydrates. I have 5 children. We receive only $100 in Snap, and it does next to nothing. I can buy may be 4 days of food for that $100. This year, I must garden as if my life depends upon it…because it does. As does the life and health of my children. I do not relish having so much riding on my gardening abilities.

    As such, I will be thinking of you and your good works. You will be helping people like me learn to stretch dollars, eat healthier, and become more aware of what they put in their bodies. Keep us in your thoughts.

    • Michael Nolan February 23, 2016, 2:06 pm


      Thanks for your note. The situation you describe is not as rare as a lot of people would like to think. I applaud you for growing your own food, and I hope you will consider me a resource to help you with gardening information any time I am able. As difficult as your situation is, I hope you can find some comfort knowing that generations of our ancestors raised all of their own food, and we can too.

      Best to you!

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