Tackling food insecurity by providing fresh fruit access to thousands in Umatilla County

Fresh fruit is an important component of a healthy diet, providing vital nutrients and fibre that are essential for optimal health. However, many communities across America lack access to fresh fruits due to the absence of grocery stores in their neighbourhoods. This  creates what is known as a ‘food desert’. Food deserts are areas where residents have limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. This issue is particularly prevalent in low-income neighbourhoods, where many residents rely on convenience stores or fast food chains for their meals, which often lack healthy options.

Incidence of food deserts on Native American reservations

Many Native American reservations in the United States are located in food deserts. The people who reside on these reservations often face significant challenges in accessing healthy and affordable food options, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. This is due in part to the limited availability of grocery stores and supermarkets in these areas, as well as transportation and infrastructure issues that make it difficult to access healthy food options.

Fresh produce at a grocery store

According to a report from the USDA, Native American households are more likely to experience food insecurity than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, with over 25% of Native American households reporting food insecurity. Additionally, many reservations are located in rural areas, where access to healthy food options can be particularly challenging.

These challenges have significant impacts on the health and well-being of Native American communities. The lack of access to healthy food options has been linked to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, which are already disproportionately high among Native American populations.

Dearcie’s story

Dearcie Abraham, founder of Red Worm Composting LLC lives on the Umatilla Reservation, in Pendleton, Oregon. She applied for funding to start an Open Orchard project on her reservation, through the AWS InCommunities Umatilla County fund.

Dearcie saw a need for fresh fruit in her community and took it upon herself to take action. By working to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in a community, she understood that could have a direct impact on improving public health outcomes, supporting economic growth, and helping to create a more vibrant and thriving community.

Dearcie drew up a project plan which consisted of planting 9 trees, about 15-20m apart, located between a swamp and a children’s playground. She has committed to two years of service as that is the amount of time needed to establish a tree. Dearcie’s team members consisted of local community members as well as the tribal housing department and community case workers.

Planting the first pear tree

To date, there are 11 fruit trees including honeyberry, gooseberry, kiwiberry, peach, apple, cherry, pear, pineapple, quince, fig and grape.

Speaking about the impact of this project, Dearcie said: “These trees will provide fresh fruit access to a low income housing area of 1,000+ Indigenous community members, from elders to children and families. This will be a safe gathering space for locals – thank you ChangeX!”

An abundance of apples at an orchard

Feeling inspired to take action? Start or join an Open Orchard project!

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