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Food Deserts

Food deserts are defined 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.

USDA was at the forefront of identifying food deserts and working to eliminate them when the Department created its High Priority Performance Goals. USDA's Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts. More than half of those people (13.5 million) are low-income. A one-mile marker may not be appropriate to use in rural areas where the population is more sparsely distributed and where vehicle ownership is high. To further refine the number of people who may be affected by food deserts, a 10-mile marker is used to consider food access in rural areas. 2.3 million people live in low-income rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket.


How are food deserts identified?

USDA, Treasury and HHS have defined a food desert as a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet. Using the census tract as a unit of analysis for identifying food deserts, USDA, Treasury and HHS will give funding priority to projects and interventions that establish healthy retail outlets in defined food deserts.  

Census tracts qualify as food deserts if they meet low-income and low-access thresholds:

1. They qualify as "low-income communities", based on having: a) a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, OR b) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area median family income; AND

2. They qualify as "low-access communities", based on the determination that at least 500 persons and/or at least 33% of the census tract's population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles, in the case of non-metropolitan census tracts).

Areas that are not in a designated Food Desert census tract may still be eligible for funding. Please refer to the applicable program materials for more information about project eligibility.

I already know what my census tract code is.  How do I know if it qualifies as a Food Desert?

Click HERE to see if your tract qualifies as a Food Desert. Find your State and County, and then look for your Tract Code. Tract Codes are listed in numerical order within each County.

I do not know my census tract code. How do I know if I’m in a Food Desert?

Use the USDA-ERS Food Desert Locator ( to view your area on a map. This online tool allows users to retrieve data on a county-by-county basis pertaining to food access. Click here for more information on the Food Desert Locator Tool.

1. Click on ‘Enter Locator.’

2. Click on ‘Find Address’ at the top of the screen.

3. Type in your address and ZIP code and click on ‘Find.’

4. A map will pop up that locates the address entered. It will appear as a dark pink circle on the map.

5. Areas on the map that are shaded light pink are food deserts.

6. If the address is located in a light-pink-shaded area, click on that address circle. A pop-up box will appear with your State, your County Name, and your Tract FIPS Code.

7. The first 2 digits of Tract FIPS Code are the State code.

8. The next 3 digits of the Tract FIPS Code are the County code.

9. The last 6 digits of the Tract FIPS Code are the Census Tract code.

10. In order to be considered as a ‘food desert project’, some grant programs require that this 11-digit number be included in the application. Note: addresses that are located outside of a pink-shaded area are not located in a food desert and the pop-up data will not appear.

Quick Links
Food Deserts
  Grant Opportunities  
  Success Stories  
  Frequently Asked Questions  
  Initiative Summary  
  USDA-ERS Food Atlas  
  Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food  
  Food Desert Locator Tool  
  Food Environment Atlas  
  How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost?  
  Food Hubs