Community and Regional Planning Program


Date of this Version



A thesis presented to the faculty of the Graduate College at the University of Nebraska in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Community and Regional Planning. Under the supervision of Professor Gordon Scholz.

Lincoln, Nebraska

May, 2012

Copyright 2012 Andrew Thierolf


Declining populations over the past several decades have created issues for residents in many rural areas. A serious concern is the emergence of “food deserts,” areas where people do not have sufficient access to nutritious foods. The Sandhills region in west-central Nebraska is a prime example of an area that is subject to the food desert phenomenon. It features a low-density rural population that creates a difficult economic environment for grocery retailers.

This paper looks at multiple aspects of the food desert issue in the region. It begins by reviewing literature to determine the definition of the term “food desert” and the health outcomes for residents with limited access. The origins of the Sandhills food desert are analyzed by connecting the historical and modern economic factors that have contributed to its existence. A strategy for visually analyzing the Sandhills food desert is developed, and a field survey of grocery stores is completed to measure nutritious food availability in Sandhills grocery stores. Historical and current data are then analyzed to develop a series of “warning signs” that an area is at risk for becoming a food desert. These warning signs are applied to the Sandhills region to identify at-risk areas. An inventory of federal, state, and local programs that attempt to address the food desert issue is then completed, and a comprehensive Nebraska food desert program is proposed.