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Comprehensive Food Desert Intervention: One Size Does Not Fit All

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Comprehensive Food Desert Intervention: One Size Does Not Fit All 

UpPrize describes healthy food access for vulnerable and underserved populations as a “Social Innovation Challenge.” We agree. Access to good food is a profound challenge for low-income people living in food deserts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. It is a social problem related to long-term trends in our food economy, not one of individual choices or behaviors or knowledge or skills. Addressing it successfully against the tide of the dominant food system demands outside-the-box, innovation-focused thinking. 


For 30 years, Just Harvest has been at the forefront of the fight against hunger in Allegheny County. Before the term “food desert” was even coined, we worked to improve City Government policy regarding the loss of small supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods, winning changes in zoning and economic development practices and testing alternative transportation solutions for low-income shoppers. In 2013, we issued a ground-breaking report, A Menu for Food Justice, documenting the food desert problem in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County and calling for a community-wide strategic response to ensure access to good food for all. The report’s primary conclusion was that “One Size Does Not Fit All” – that is, different communities have different needs and different resources that require customized and locally appropriate solutions. 


In the past few years, we have begun to turn that vision into reality, through pioneering solutions such as Fresh Access and Fresh Corners.

Fresh Access provides electronic transaction capacity for shoppers using Food Stamps (SNAP) and for many other customers at 18 local farmers markets, in cooperation with more than 100 individual local farmers and other food vendors.

Fresh Corners
is building a community-wide network of individually-owned “mom-and-pop” corner stores that are choosing to sell fresh produce and other healthy food choices in otherwise underserved neighborhoods. Four corner stores are already transforming their businesses to benefit their neighborhoods, with several more in the works.

These initiatives are community-focused and build on existing neighborhood assets to carefully cultivate relationships with a wide range of business and resident stakeholders. They provide sustainable win-win scenarios for sellers and consumers alike, while also contributing to broader economic gains for low-income communities. They are grounded in our mission-driven principle that access to healthy food must be a right, not a privilege.


Now is the time to take these successes to the next level: to build further upon what we have learned and advance a range of community-based food desert solutions.

Why? Because there isn’t just one solution.

Communities, customers, vendors, farmers, and retail locations all have different considerations and needs. Just Harvest’s mission and track record lie at the intersection of these needs.  As the keystone of food advocacy in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, Just Harvest is uniquely positioned to work with communities to help cultivate the solution that best meets their food access needs.  


Partnering with UpPrize’s investors and supporters, we can and will create innovative, enduring, and sustainable solutions that are customized to the unique needs and resources of specific food desert neighborhoods. With UpPrize’s support, Just Harvest will turn our model food desert intervention programs – Fresh Access and Fresh Corners – into a comprehensive pro-active strategy that identifies and implements new fresh food market opportunities in food desert communities. We will work with community residents, existing food retailers, CDC’s, local government, and businesses across the fresh food supply chain to customize appropriately scaled community responses. As individual circumstances dictate, responses may include:
·         New or re-located farmers markets
New electronic transaction capacity at existing farmers markets

·         New or expanded healthy corner stores
Attracting start-up healthy food retailers

·         Community-based marketing of fresh food
·         Helping existing business provide access to consumers who rely on public food assistance programs
·         Prioritizing healthy food access in economic development policy and public decision-making.  

Our strategy can meet the Social Innovation Challenge posed by food deserts across our area because there isn’t just one solution.


Nov 30 2016

Organization Organization Type



Healthy Food

Product Stage


  • Ken Regal
  • Kenneth Munz
  • Josh Berman
  • Emily Cleath

Contact this team about Funding, Collaboration or other methods of support. Contact Team



Dennis Smiddle

about 1 year ago

Dear Josh and Just Harvest Team, Please take a look at my H.E.L.P Garden UpPrize submission, as I can empower anyone to grow their own healthy food. Your Just Harvest concept is great and my H.E.L.P. Garden can complement your comprehensive approach. Can we collaborate?

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