Monday, August 23, 2010

Food Access: Tip of the Iceberg

I read a recent blog post from the Farmers Market Coalition about barriers preventing many SNAP participants from buying fresh and healthy food at farmers markets. Impediments listed mostly concerned financial issues of the SNAP customer and the farmer as well as cultural issues. Technical assistance for farmers markets was recommended.

Curious, I went to the report on which the blog post was based, REAL FOOD, REAL CHOICE Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets. The report identified other impediments to buying at a farmers market, such as lack of transportation and lack of time to do multiple shopping trips.

An additional barrier highlighted by those individuals contacted was transportation. This not only includes the distance from a home to the market, but also concerns regarding transporting children/families to the market or finding childcare for children in order to complete shopping needs. Some organizations and markets, such as Hunger Action LA and the Lents Market in Portland, OR, have attempted to address transportation concerns by providing van or bus services from lower income neighborhoods to the market, but those organizations do not have the resources to provide transportation over the long-term.

In fact, lack of transportation was identified as a barrier in both urban and rural communities. In suburbia, 10 blocks that are dangerous to cross are as much an obstacle as life without a car in a rural area with 20 miles to a store or market that has food. These obstacles are practical for the consumer, but are complex for state and local agencies that have not previously had relationships. For example, in Michigan:

Many statewide farmers market organizations do not presently have the connections with transportation authorities to address transportation barriers. Additionally, many transportation decisions are made locally and it is difficult to coordinate advocacy on transportation barriers at a statewide level.

A December 2009, a brief about obesity prevention and health promotion prepared by the National Association of Counties (NACo) acknowledged the dire transportation challenges to reach supermarkets in rural communities for those without cars. These suggestions were offered.

Enhancements to public transportation systems can also help improve residents’ access to healthy and affordable foods. Local officials or community organizations can partner with the local public transportation system to improve routes that link lower-income areas with supermarkets or offer businesses financial incentives to develop projects near public transportation routes.

Good News

The good news is that transit funding ballot measures are being embraced. The homepage of the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA)tells the story of service boosts and an 80 percent ballot initiative pass rate.

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