Eating Healthy in A Rural Food Desert

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Did you guys know that I live in a rural food desert? 

It's true. Solutions for eating healthy when food sources are far away.

The USDA defines a food desert as:

urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

 

It IS possible for us to eat healthy food, though, and because I'm a believer in blossoming where you are, I do my best to keep my house stocked with food that nourishes us rather than food loaded with artificial ingredients that might keep well but doesn't do our bodies or minds any favors.

Here's my situation: there is no grocery store in the town I live in. There isn't even a convenience store or fast food restaurant serving unhealthy options! The nearest grocery store is just over 20 miles away. Most of the food in the store is highly processed. There are some fresh foods, though there isn't a great selection. There is no organic produce, and the conventional options that are there are priced at the same as organic in the nearest cities. We don't shop there often.

We live in rural North Dakota, right between Grand Forks and Fargo, both of which are about an hour away from our home. We usually go to Fargo, because we have more ties there and usually have other errands to run and people to visit. In Fargo, we shop at:

  • Costco, which has a lot of affordable healthy options, including organic food.
  • Cash Wise, a local chain with a natural foods section that is the bomb.
  • Tochi Products, near the downtown area. We aren't downtown a lot anymore, but when we are I like to pop in and check out the sales at Tochi. I also buy herbs and spices in bulk here. It's the first health food store in town!

Cash Wise also delivers to our area every Thursday, which we take advantage of when we have no reason to go to Fargo for a few weeks. The delivery out here is $22, which about what gas would cost to go to Fargo and back, so it's very much worth it.

Growing our own foods is a bit of a buffer in the warmer months, but as you can imagine, not practical when ND is frozen for so much of the year. We are still eating squash and apples from this fall, though!

Without the option to run to the grocery store a few times a week for fresh food, I also have to really plan out what I buy, when we'll eat it, and how I store food. It takes a lot of planning! The main habits I rely on are:

  • Eating the fresh food with the shortest life first. Avocados, greens, grapes, bananas, etc.
  • Freezing food that won't get eaten right away to preserve nutrient content. Yes, I use my freezer a LOT!
  • Soaking grains, nuts, and beans. Because we rely a lot on these storage-friendly staples, I like to soak them overnight to be as gentle on our digestive system as possible.

Another way I like to fill in the gaps with healthy foods is by ordering certain foods online. I recently became aware of Thrive Market – Leah from Mamavation calls it “Costco meets Whole Foods online.” I am loving what I see from them so far. They only carry truly natural products and offer everything at 25-50% below retail. What I really love, though, is their social mission:

Our mission is to make healthy living easy and affordable for everyone.

Three Thrive Promises:
1. Only the highest quality healthy and natural products
2. Always at prices 25-50% below retail
3. Always committed to sustainability and social justice

Other online sources I use for buying healthy foods online are Vitacost and Amazon.

And, of course, I love Mountain Rose Herbs for herbs, spices, and other supplies!

Do you live in a food desert or face any other challenges providing your family with healthy food?





10 Responses

  1. We live in a small town where there is a grocery store but everything is ridiculously processed and unhealthy. The fresh foods that are there are really expensive. I don’t blame the store for that, it costs more to keep stores running out in the sticks. I do a lot of the same things you do, but haven’t ventured into looking online for food. Thanks for the new ideas.

    • Sam, it sounds very similar to the grocery store closest to me. I understand completely. Yes, operating a rural grocery store must be a challenge.

  2. I used live 20 miles away from the nearest grocery store, and they don’t have organic produce at all, and their meat has been under “scrutiny” for being “glued”. I was grateful when Aldi came in, because they at least have some organic produce…

    I have to rely on my backyard most of the time, because the nearest Costco or Whole Foods are not only in opposite directions, but they both 60 miles away. I totally feel your pain here!

  3. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t know about Thrive Market. That’s good to know about Costco too, I didn’t know they had that kind of selection.

    • From what I understand, the selection isn’t always the same in every area. But most people I talk to are noticing more and more organics all the time. 🙂

  4. Amanda Sakovitz

    I use my freezer a lot too to eat healthy. I’ve never really ordered food online though before. I think thats a great idea. I think i always just thought it would be more expensive or something.

    • It can be! Finding good deals was a learning process for me. Now I can decide pretty quickly if something is worth it considering gas or shipping costs.

  5. We follow the same healthy food / eating habits as you even though we do live in a more suburban-rural area and have access to a grocery store and health food stores within a 30-45 minute drive. Luckily, we have ALOT of small, organic farms here that grow and provide food through CSA’s, of which we belong to a few for produce, eggs, meats and pantry items. This is a very helpful and encouraging article, thanks for writing and sharing it.

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