Rural Food Deserts: Low-income Perspectives on Food Access in Minnesota and Iowa

Chery Smith, Lois W. Morton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate how low-income rural residents living in food deserts access the normal food system and food safety net services within their communities, and explore how social, personal, and environment drives food access and food choice. Design: Seven focus groups (90 minutes each) were conducted with 2 moderators present and were audiotaped. Setting: Food deserts in rural Minnesota and Iowa. Participants: Fifty-seven residents (Minnesota: 13 females and 8 males; Iowa: 24 females and 12 males). Most participants were white and had not completed high school or higher education. Phenomenon of Interest: Food choice and food access among rural residents. Analysis: Transcripts were evaluated for consistency and coded for themes and subthemes. Results: Three dominant themes influence food access and choice and were identified as: (a) personal and household determinants of food; (b) social and cultural environment; and (c) structure of place or the external environment. Conclusions and Implications: Personal, environmental, and dietary behavioral factors are all interconnected; each plays a major role in influencing dietary behavior and the resulting health outcomes in rural Minnesotans and Iowans living in food deserts. However, although personal factors impact eating behavior for rural people, it is the physical and social environments that place constraints on food access, even in civically engaged communities. Food access may be improved in communities where civic engagement is strong, and where local organizations join in providing solutions to decrease barriers of food access by increasing access to the normal and food safety net systems and by creating informal alternatives, such as community gardens and informal transportation networks, or enhancing federal programs through greater volunteer involvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-187
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Minnesota research was funded in part by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station and the Food Stamp Program. Iowa research was funded in part by the Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station. The authors would like to thank all of the participants for graciously taking the time to share a piece of their life with us. Furthermore, we thank Nicole Eikenberry, Annette Bitto, Mary Jane Oakland, and Mary Sand for their assistances with this project. This research is part of the USDA Agricultural Experiment Station multi-state project NC1001.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • eating behavior
  • environment
  • social norms

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