'Food deserts' workshop highlights a growing concern across South Carolina

By Peter Hull

SC Food Desert MapHundreds of thousands of people across South Carolina live in communities where access to supermarkets or large grocery stores is beyond reach. In agricultural terms, such areas are called "food deserts" -- communities where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain.  

"For a growing population, healthy foods are much harder to come by in the modern world," said Clemson professor Dave Lamie. "For many, they sadly are beyond reach."  

Lamie is chairman of the S.C. Food Policy Council and a researcher with Clemson’s Institute for Economic and Community Development at the Sandhill Research and Education Center in Columbia.  

The Food Policy Council, Lowcountry Housing Trust and S.C. Department of Agriculture hosted the "Growing Food and Opportunities in South Carolina: Economic and Community Development through Healthy Food Access," a workshop to address the health and socio-economic issues associated with food deserts.  

Municipal, charity, retail and education officials met at the S.C. State Farmers Market to discuss ways to decrease food deserts across South Carolina and how healthy environments can drive economic development.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture broadly defines urban food deserts as low-income census tracts where people live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. In rural areas, that distance expands to people living more than 10 miles from supermarkets or large grocery stores.  

In South Carolina, 1,632 rural and 4,897 urban communities meet the food-desert definition, said Michelle Mapp, executive director of Lowcounty Housing Trust.  

Poverty exacerbates the problem, and no one group can fix the problem. Governments, philanthropic groups and free enterprise cannot fix problems associated with food deserts unless they work together, said keynote speaker Jeff Brown, chief executive of Brown’s Super Stores, a Philadelphia-area grocery store chain and an active member of the city’s nonprofit organizations that aim to improve access to food in low-income communities.  

To view USDA’s interactive national food deserts map, visit: