A Working Group to Address the Challenge of Food Deserts Through Urban Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2019: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Savannah State University
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Philip Omunga
Savannah State University

Information Products

Brochure (Conference/Presentation Material)
Flyer (Conference/Presentation Material)
SSU-SARE page (Website)


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: aquaculture
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Production Systems: aquaponics, hydroponics
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, quality of life, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    A significant and growing area of world hunger is the availability/affordability of healthy food for urban and rural landless poor. In Savannah, the need is most pressing in areas described as urban food deserts (UFDs), which are lacking nearby grocery stores and often personal transportation. This obstacle creates scenarios of poor nutrition, food insecurity, and poor health outcomes. To achieve healthier, more equitable, and vibrant communities, it is essential to create opportunities for all residents to have practical access to healthy food. Simultaneously, our cities face challenges associated with management of vacant land and environmental degradation associated with nutrient-containing waste. We propose an educational project to develop an agricultural system using urban aquaponics (synergistic fish and hydroponic vegetable farming) on city-owned, vacant land in a public-private partnership to address these challenges synergistically. Existing aquaponic farmers, academics, city leaders, and others have been identified for a seminar series to create a path forward for this project while educating and recruiting interested new farmers. Also, an elementary school in a target UFD area will host a demonstration system with accompanying curriculum.

    Reduced access to health food is a problem created by urbanization. As cities have grown larger and denser, the practical travel time to food-growing areas has increased, eliminating the opportunity for residents to grow or obtain food directly. While industrial agricultural and retail grocers have solved this problem for most, certain areas in urban and rural areas have proven unprofitable for grocers and remain underserved. The fundamental solution is to shorten the distance to healthy, affordable food. While food pantry and food subsidy models have successfully met this need, they also require additional resource above that already invested.

    The proposed approach promises to drastically reduce obstructive costs including land, transportation, retail, feed, and energy, and provide a more sustainable approach to address UFDs. This approach promises to move beyond primarily education/recreational use of "community garden" space to truly fill a food gap. Land and transportation costs are reduced by using vacant, city-owned urban land and feed costs are reduced by recovering nutrient-rich urban wastes that are currently creating environmental problems.

    Gadsden Elementary, the demonstration/education site and a Title One School of Distinction is located in an identified UFD and within an area selected by the city for the EPA CUPP program. As an emerging area of agriculture, there are regulatory, knowledge and acceptance hurdles to overcome before effective implementation. The concept presented must be refined and tested against expertise in various areas and proven economically viable. Community interest surveys must be conducted before investments are made. This educational step is essential to network critical entities and educate the public, existing and potential growers, administrators, and other stakeholders to the potential that this synergistic method has for increasing the sustainability of our urban and nearby rural communities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • Procure data on preferences and demand for locally source produce and fish while fostering an environment in which key partnerships can be developed for production and distribution.
    • Create opportunities for networking, training and exchange between existing producers and scientists centered around modern aquaponics, urban waste management, composting and vermiculture, urban food deserts, and business management with a legacy for continued partnership.
    • Design and build a demonstration system in an elementary school in a Savannah UFD area to be used as an education and training tool with and by all invitees/participants/stakeholders, including UFD residents.
    • Lay groundwork for a future grower-centered SARE research proposal to deploy and cultivate these concepts.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.