Permaculture: Oasis in the Desert

Food. It is a major topic of conversation among environmentalists, economists, scientists, and many other groups of people. From issues ranging from genetically modified organisms to food shortages in foreign countries there is a wide open grab bag of content to be analyzed and discussed. One of these many topics that people may not be aware of is that in our country, The United States of America, food deserts have become an ever occurring issue. A food desert is an area where members of a community do not access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food and is usually but not necessarily considered to be of low-income. Formally it is an area where at least 500 people or 33% of the population live a mile or more from the nearest grocery store and in “non-metro” areas they extend that distance to 10 miles. According to the USDA as of 2010 there were 18 million people living in the U.S. that lived in areas that fell into this category.


A map of food deserts through out the United States

Some might say that a practical solution to this problem would be to provide these areas with more grocery stores so that these people could have better access to better food. A study done by the Associated Press however reveled some discouraging evidence. Between 2011 to 2015 that 75 of this countries top food retailers opened up 10,300 stores and that only 250 of those were grocery stores located in food deserts. So if we can’t get our businesses to help solve the problem of food deserts, what other options could be possible solutions?

Implementing permaculture design into these communities could be a productive and sustainable way to provide people living in these areas not only with nutritious and affordable food but also with new sources of income as these operations have the potential to create jobs. Permaculture is the idea that a community, using a single plot of land or thousands of acres, can use natural processes to harvest things such as food and water to create a sustainable and regenerative ecosystem that can produce and expand much needed biodiversity. A basic design for one of these operations would be like planting edible plants that range from tall tree’s and get lower and lower until the system makes its way into the roots.

An example of the biodiversity that can be achieved in such a small area with permaculture 

Now each operation would have its own variables to deal with such as climate, land type and availability, willingness of community, soil quality and the list goes on and on. There are however many organizations such as the Urban Permaculture Guild that have programs, design teams, and volunteers who’s mission it is to spread this design and help communities implement them. So, could permaculture be helpful in reducing the impacts of food deserts? Probably. Will it be the end all be all to our problems? The only way we can find out is if we try.




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4 responses to “Permaculture: Oasis in the Desert

  1. amyquandt

    Very interesting! What do you think the different challenges would be with starting permaculture programs in rural vs. urban areas?


    • jackkotarba

      In rural areas there could be problems associated with irrigation and distance still. If it is an area where there is little water it might be difficult or very costly to run a system to the operation. This could be solved however by reusing rain water and other forms but if it does rain that does really work. Another thing is that it still might be too far away from people to where they wouldn’t want to come and work on it or pick crops and such. Urban areas have space constraints and so you would need to be able to find a good area to do it which might be tough. Another thing I think might be a problem is vandalism and theft.


  2. joemitchem

    Are there any economic challenges associated with starting a permaculture in a food desert?


    • jackkotarba

      As with any new and innovative practice there are overhead and upkeep costs involved. Depending on the food and where the permaculture operation is located there might be a need to figure out how to get water their which may cost money that people would be unwilling to spend right off hand. Another might be that people aren’t willing to manage the operation once its up and paying a company or group of people might be too expensive as well. The costs of set up might deter people from this as well but it seems that the long term savings and benefits out weigh what seems like a high start up cost.


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