Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough safe, nutritious and socially acceptable food for an active, healthy and productive life. It can be cyclical, or episodic–associated with a crisis like COVID-19.”(Second Harvest) [1] Food insecurity is a symptom of financial, socio-economic and geographic failures, as such, food insecurity is complex in the ways it arises and expresses itself in individuals, households and communities. As part of the Big Bend, we see this issue in our own community and we want to help. The Big Bend contains 6 of the 10 most food insecure counties in Florida.

=Big Bend
Meeting with CEO of Second Harvest of The Big Bend

Food insecure populations suffer from higher rates of nutrient deficiencies and chronic diseases stemming from health risks associated with obesity, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, asthma, or diabetes[3].


In an effort to increase the number of balanced meals of their clients, Tallahassee food pantries like Good News Outreach are asking for more fresh produce. Most food pantries aren’t open everyday of the week, many are open once a week or once a month [4]. The infrequent availability of food pantries coupled with the short expiration of fresh food leaves food pantries predominantly taking and distributing shelf-stable goods like staples (rice, beans, potatoes, etc), canned goods and packaged goods, foods that are commonly high in sodium and carbohydrates

To tackle this issue, we developed the ChiFresh system to extend the shelf-life of fresh produce. The ChiFresh system is composed of applying our chitosan spray onto fresh produce and then wrapping it with a chitin film. Our chitosan spray is composed of a chitosan–cinnamon oil mix that has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. We would then wrap our produce in a chitin film to maintain a set environment, preventing microbial growth. From our lab experiments, we found that fresh produce exposed to our chitosan-cinnamon oil mix lasts 3 days longer. Once implemented into the workflows of food pantries, our chifresh system would have a meaningful impact for food pantries and their clients.

“...Anything that will make the fresh produce last longer and still have it be good so that we can send it to our seniors on the weekends, we could get rid of a lot more [produce].”
(Good News Outreach)

Though food insecurity is correlated with income, recent reports have demonstrated that the negative health effects of food insecurity is also correlated with living in food deserts and food swamps.[6]

To tackle the geographic issue surrounding food insecurity, we propose creating and locating mobile fresh food trucks that will visit different food deserts & swamps everyday. Working off the advice of Second Harvest of the Big Bend, the largest food bank in the Tallahassee area, we identified ideal locations to place our fresh food truck and crafted a business model for a start-up, Produce Mobile. To reduce the costs of rotating fresh produce, we would apply the Chi-Fresh system to our produce, which would increase the accessibility of our product to food-insecure populations. In addition, we propose implementing card readers that accept government-assistance cards like FAB, SNAP, EBT, or WIC.

ChiFresh WorkFlow


In normal years, Food Insecurity is an experience faced by 100,000 people (2019, 14%) in the Big Bend. This was made worse by the novel coronavirus; disrupting the lives and livelihoods of our community, our food insecurity rate has exploded from 14.6% to almost 30%.[1]

Speaking to local food pantries and banks, we learned that food insecurity in our community is predominantly rooted in accessibility and affordability. COVID-19 has disrupted the food pantry workflow by vastly expanding the food insecure population and preventing the return of the routine volunteers food pantries rely on, seniors.

Food Deserts and Food Swamps

Food deserts

Food Desserts are characterised by low-income and low-access. As defined by the USDA, “low access to healthy food is defined as being far from a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store. A census tract, an area with ~2,000-8,000 residents, is considered to have low access if a significant number or share of individuals in the tract is far from a supermarket”[7]. Farmer’s markets are common in food deserts but have limited availability, only being open during certain hours and certain days.

Map of Food Deserts in the Big Bend area

Food Swamps

Food Swamps are areas saturated with an abundance of less healthy food options (as opposed to “food deserts that lack healthy food options) [6]. Scientific data shows that food swamps are better predictors of BMI and obesity rates than food deserts [6]. American food swamps are characterized by an overabundance of fast food chains or small stores that don’t offer a grocery section.

Food Swamp near FSU's campus

  1. SiteMGR-ASHBB. Food Insecurity | Second Harvest of the Big Bend. 26 June 2019, Accessed 22 Oct. 2021
  2. “Tallahassee Food Challenge Supports Second Harvest of the Big Bend.” WFSU News, 17 June 2021,
  3. Gregory, Christian, and Alisha Coleman-Jensen. Food Insecurity, Chronic Disease, and Health among Working-Age Adults. 2017.
  4. SiteMGR-ASHBB. Find a Food Pantry | Second Harvest of the Big Bend. 24 June 2019,
  5. Dutko, Paula, et al. Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts. 2012.
  6. Cooksey-Stowers, Kristen, et al. “Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better than Food Deserts in the United States.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 14, no. 11, 14 Nov. 2017, p. 1366, 10.3390/ijerph14111366.
  7. “USDA ERS - Documentation.” “USDA ERS - Documentation.”, 2018, Accessed 22 Oct. 2021.