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East Tennessee groups work to address food insecurity in local food deserts

The USDA estimates nearly 23.5 million people live in food deserts nationwide, and some areas in East Tennessee are on that list.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The United States Department of Agriculture found about more than 23 million people live in food deserts, and East Tennesseans know this all too well.

Another 2.3 million Americans live more than a mile away from a super market and don't own a car, according to local non-profits.

"We serve 18 different counties and I can tell you this is something you see everywhere from rural areas to East and South Knoxville," Second Harvest Executive Director Elaine Streno said. 

In fact the USDA's food desert map shows pockets in almost every area of East Tennessee. 

"We need some more economy happening in some of these counties so we can provide jobs and grocery stores," Streno said. 

Over at the YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center, staff members opened up a garden used to help address this issue. In 2018 the center utilized the garden to facilitate 81 cooking classes and served 9,200 meals. It also notes 92% of participants increased their knowledge about healthy food. 

Streno said the health aspect is a huge piece of the puzzle.

"Healthy product is very important to Second Harvest," she said. "They need healthy product to eat healthy and be a member of society that contributes to society."

While it is an issue affecting millions of Americans, Streno said she does believe there is hope things will get better.

"Education is key, we have to provide a great education to every child in our community," she said. "And then also the healthy food component so that we have thriving adults that work and provide food to their families."

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