From the top-down and the bottom-up, communities are coming together to end food deserts.

Take a moment to think about how far from your house you have to travel to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat. If you have to travel at least one mile (or 10 miles in rural areas) to purchase fresh food, you, my friend, are living in a food desert.

A food desert looks less like this:


Photo by iStock.

And more like this:

Yes, there is access to food in a food desert. But not fresh produce or meat. Photo by iStock.

Food deserts tend to exist in low-income areas, where residents may not have access to reliable transportation, which makes traveling long distances difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

For example, in Baltimore, a heavily residential metropolitan area, 1 in 4 people live in a food desert.

According to the Baltimore Business Journal, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake intends to introduce legislation offering, "new or renovating supermarkets in certain areas of the city an 80 percent discount on their personal property taxes for 10 years."

Those areas of the city are, of course, food deserts.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

And Rawlings-Blake is not alone. Between 2001 and 2011, 12 states, including Washington D.C., enacted healthier food legislation. Which is a good thing, because food deserts aren't just an isolated issue, they're a national problem.

An estimated 23.5 million people in the U.S. (that's 7% of the country) reside in a food desert.

Without access to groceries or supermarkets to buy healthy food, residents of these areas often resort to fast food or convenience stores, which can result in poor nutrition and an increase in diet-related diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Photo by iStock.

As part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, the current administration pledged to eliminate food deserts in America by 2017.

While many elected officials are doing what they can, the legislative process is often slow. Many people living in food deserts can't afford to wait until 2017 to get access to fresh food.

Grassroots organizations in cities and communities are helping chip away at the ambitious goal.

Consider the Real Food Farm, an urban farm in a Baltimore park. While Mayor Rawlings-Blake is proposing a bill to give tax cuts to supermarkets in food deserts in the near future, the volunteers from Real Food Farm are making sure the people in those areas have access to fresh produce right now.

Several times a week, volunteers harvest crops and drive to different communities to sell fresh produce from their truck, better known as a "mobile farmers market." They even match the first $5 customers spend. Thanks to the matching program, shoppers can take home a full bag of groceries for less than most meals at fast food restaurants.

Real Food Farm's mobile farmers market in action. Photo by Real Food Farm, used with permission.

Or consider Juices for Life, a fresh-pressed juice bar in the Bronx, which was opened by platinum-selling rap artists Styles P and Jadakiss with the goal of bringing healthier options to the community they love.

"If you walk down the block in the hood, it's nearly impossible to find something healthy to put in your body," Jadakiss said in a video for EliteDaily. "We didn't have the knowledge or the opportunity we do now. That's exactly what we're trying to give to our community."


Or consider the People's Community Market in West Oakland, California, where the community was so desperate for a grocery store but couldn't secure large private investors. Brahm Ahmadi, a local entrepreneur, took it upon himself to found the market and sell stock in the organization through a direct public offering, the same nontraditional approach used by Costco and Ben & Jerry's when they were up-and-coming businesses.

The individuals and families investing (each contributing a minimum of $1,000) have raised over $1 million to acquire a site and get to work building the much-needed grocery store.


West Oakland is one step closer to veggies on veggies on veggies. Photo by iStock.

All of these options are steps in the right direction toward solving a much bigger problem. They're a frequent reminder that when we come together, we can find meaningful solutions to challenging problems and help our communities thrive.

Heroes

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture