Do you have access to good food?

Residents in many communities face challenges to have access to healthy food.

It would be ideal if everyone in our communities could purchase foods that are healthy and provide the greatest nutritional value. Unfortunately, access to food is not equal for all residents and a problem for many communities. There are many areas that lack access to a variety of food.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture: Agriculture Marketing Service, areas with a lack-of-access are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy or affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

USDA has outlined a map of the nation’s areas that have low access. The Food Assess Research Atlas can be used to identify a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).

As part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, the proposed Healthy Food Financing will expand the availability of nutritious food to low access areas by developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores and farmers markets with fresh and healthy food. Residents who are challenged with getting to retail stores will have more opportunities to purchase healthier foods in their neighborhoods.

What can you do locally to help address food access? If you grow a garden, consider donating any abundance to areas of your community where access is a problem. Is there a corner store or gas station – convenience store that would allow a fresh produce display and offer donated items free to residents in the neighborhood?

Can you become involved with a community garden? Many areas are using vacant lots to plant gardens, where residents share the responsibility of growing and harvesting the produce. Is there any opportunity to organize a mobile market or sometimes referred to as produce trucks to take produce to the underserved areas?

Explore opportunities in your own community to become a part of solving food access issues.

Michigan State University Extension has educators working across Michigan who provide Community Food Systems educational programming and assistance. For more information, you can contact an educator by conducting a search with the Find an Expert search tool and using the keywords, Community Food Systems.

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