The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Food Insecurities: Food Deserts and Sustainable Solutions

The goal of this project is the develop a learning activity that could be used in a makerspace or classroom that introduces food deserts and sustainable gardening solutions, then participants will design solutions for a sustainable garden.  While this is designed for small groups, individuals may use it as a template for individual learning.   

This project is a work-in-progress.  If there are any concerns about methodology or accessibility, please email Dennis Spencer,, for feedback.  

Companion Activity

A companion learning activity, Food Insecurities:  Build a Solution,  is available in which participants learn to build a sustainable gardening solution.   

Activity Objective

Students will evaluate sustainable gardening options and design a sustainable community garden to combat food deserts.  

Activity Description

Students investigate food insecurities in a local community, who they affect and the impacts thereof, solutions, barriers.  Students will then explore sustainable gardening options and then design a community garden.  

  • Title of Lesson:  Sustainable Solutions for Food Deserts
  • Grade Level(s) :  Higher Education
  • Essential Question:  How do we combat food deserts?
  • Budget Required: $0

Interdisciplinary Content Standard/ Learning Objective

Students will be able to learn about food related health issues, sustainable horticulture, community engagement, and project planning.

Description of Lesson

  1. General schedule:
    1. First Hour:  Research food deserts, sustainable solutions, and develop user profiles based on local community demographics.
    2. Second Hour:  Design a community garden for local community.  Teacher can provide locations.  
    3. Third Hour:  Groups will share out their proposals with class.     
  2. Students will research: 
    1. Food deserts and the impacts they have on individuals and communities. 
    2. Sustainable gardening solutions like hydroponics, irrigation systems, aquaponics, vertical gardening, square foot gardening.  
    3. Local demographics
  3. Students will develop user profiles to help decision making regarding community engagement.
  4. Preselected sites will be presented to the student to evaluate if and how they would design a community garden using sustainable gardening methods.  
  5. Students present their community garden proposal explaining rationale for design.  Students share how its sustainable and provide a strategy for community engagement.  
  6. Prompt Examples
  7. Gardening
    1. What methods of growing should be utilized?  
    2. What type of food should be produced?
    3. What is the sustainable plan?  Who manages site/volunteers? System maintenance?  
  8. Construction
    1. What location logistics should be considered?
    2. What resources will be needed to build the garden?
    3. How will building costs be minimized?  
  9. Community Engagement
    1. How do students get to know our community?
    2. How do students engage with the community?
    3. How we students get community to embrace initiative (assist growing/eat food stuff)?  


1 presentation per group of 3 students.  Presentations are 5-10 minutes.  

Team Roles:

  • Gardening
  • Construction 
  • Community Engagement 

Implementation Strategy

The lessons will be formatted for small groups.  Challenges are internet availability, device availability, students feeling intimidated by scope of project and time constraints.     


Students will present their solutions and, through that, demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter.  

Skill Types

  • Data analysis
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Design
  • Collaboration


Food Deserts

Sustainable Gardening