The Virginia Food Desert Task Force is a partnership between Virginia State University and Virginia Tech to study and evaluate the state of food deserts in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Type of Organization



Primary Contact

Alan Grant: Dean, College & Agriculture & Life Science, Virginia Tech

(540) 231-4152 or

Jewel Hairston: Dean, School of Agriculture, Virginia State University

(804) 524-5961 or

General Information

 The task force published a report in January of 2014 that identified concentrated pockets of food insecurity across the commonwealth and proposed strategies and resources to increase access to healthy, affordable food for the consideration of the Virginia General Assembly. The task force was composed of twenty eight experts in agriculture, food systems, and commerce, as well as community leaders and non-profit executives with experience serving vulnerable populations. Dean Jewel Hairston of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University and Dean Alan Grant of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech were the force’s co-chairs.

The full report can be accessed here:

Methodology, Key Findings, and Recommendations

The report includes findings on food insecurity and prevalence of areas with low or inadequate access to affordable and nutritious food, also known as food deserts.

Rather than collecting primary data themselves, researchers performed the study by consolidating data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Census Bureau, Feeding America’s 2011 Map the Meal Gap study, and other city and county data sources. The study focused on the commonwealth of Virginia as a whole, as well as eight specific localities selected to represent the spectrum of geographical and socioeconomic conditions that exist throughout the commonwealth. These locations were (1) Fredericksburg, (2) Hampton, (3) Harrisonburg, (4) Lynchburg, (5) Martinsville, (6) Petersburg, (7) City of Richmond, and (8) Wise County.

One of the key findings of the study revealed that although Virginia has lower rates of hunger and food insecurity compared to many other states across the nation, there are still concentrated pockets of low food access (food deserts) to varying degrees in all counties and cities throughout the commonwealth, both rural and urban. There proved to be clustered areas of food insecurity and low food access even in parts of the state considered to be more affluent, including Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Manassas, though food insecurity and low-food access existed at lower rates than elsewhere in the state. Additionally, the rate of low food access in the commonwealth was found to be 17.8%, which far exceeds that of the nation, 7.3%. Some findings of the report are summarized in the tables below:


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Researchers found poverty to be the strongest predictor of food deserts across the commonwealth as a whole, and lack of transportation was found to be a critical barrier to achieving food security. In addition, compared to localities with adequate food access, localities with low food access were found to have a higher per capita number of fast food restaurants and convenience stores and a lower per capita number of grocery stores that stock fresh produce.

The Task Force then offered eight recommendations for Virginia General Assembly consideration that would make use of the resources already available in Virginia to develop and implement effective strategies to ensure all Virginians have sufficient access to nutritious and affordable food in their communities. These recommendations included strengthening the partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Food System Council, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension to expand research and educational programming, implementing tax incentives that promote the production and sale of fresh produce, and establishing an educational urban farm at Virginia State University.


  • Virginia Tech
  • Virginia State University
  • Virginia Cooperative Network
  • Feeding America Southwest Virginia
  • Virginia General Assembly
  • Virginia Food System Council