Mapping Food Deserts in Southern California

An image of a desert

Mapping Food Deserts in Southern California

A picture of Nicolas MalloyAuthor: Nicolas R. Malloy

The goal of this activity is to use GIS analysis to map potential food deserts in Southern California. In this activity, you will create and organize a project folder using a standardized folder structure. You will then download and decompress the data from public sources. Using the data, you will conduct a GIS analysis using attribute selections with proximity and overlay operations.

Learning Outcomes

Students who complete this tutorial should be able to:

  • Summarize the steps for creating and organizing a project workspace folder structure
  • Illustrate the ability to download data from a public source
  • Manage spatial reference systems for an analysis
  • Practice conducting an attribute query
  • Carry out a spatial query
  • Demonstrate how to perform a table join
  • Add and populate fields in an attribute table
  • Show how to implement overlay operations such as clip and erase
  • Exemplify the use of proximity operations such as buffers
  • Practice changing map output size in ArcMap
  • Apply symbology and color choices to map features
  • Insert essential map elements using ArcMap
  • Export a high-resolution map


A food desert is a community, neighborhood, or region where people have limited access to affordable, nutritious food because they live far from a supermarket or large grocery store and do not have easy access to transportation. In this scenario, you are working for a non-profit organization that is interested in identifying potential food deserts in several Southern California counties.

You will use the following criteria in your analysis:

  • The study area will be limited to several Southern California counties including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, and Imperial
  • Census tracts where people with poverty status is greater than or equal to 25%.
  • Areas more than one mile from a large grocery store or supermarket

Conduct the analysis using the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system along with the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD 83). Southern California lies in Zone 11 of the UTM system.