Assessing Your Community’s Food Security
by Andy Fisher

Assessing your community’s food security is a crucial step towards developing projects suited to its needs and resources. This exercise can be conducted on many different levels, from a year-long comprehensive study to a much simpler neighborhood analysis. Here is a partial list of questions that you may want to ask:

Access to food. Access to healthy and affordable food is an important component of food security. Are there supermarkets within walking distance? What percentage of local residents don’t have cars? Do the bus lines serve the shopping needs of the community? Are there high rates of shopping cart loss (a proxy for poor access)? Are culturally appropriate foods available? Do local supermarkets employ local residents? Do they pay livable wages? Do residents rely on mom and pop stores? Can you get healthy foods from these stores?

Hunger and nutrition. Hunger is hard to measure: proxies are often used in its stead. What is the area’s median household income and per capita income? What percentage of income do residents spend on rent? How many people receive food from local food pantries? Food Stamps? Free school meals? In terms of nutrition, do local hospital records reveal rates of diet-related diseases for local residents?

Community resources. The inventory should also consider existing community food resources. Are there community gardens nearby? Is there nearby land for food production, such as empty lots? Do community residents (such as recent immigrants) have untapped agricultural skills? Are there nearby farmers’ markets, buying clubs, community-supported agriculture networks (CSAs), SHARE programs, or public markets? How can these resources be better utilized to meet residents’ needs? Can organizations working on these issues form partnerships?

Local Agriculture. We need a sustainable food supply if our communities are to be food-secure over the long term. Have local farmers gone out of business lately? Has there been much farmland loss recently? What is the median age of local farmers? Can locally-grown produce be found in the community’s stores? Do local farmers tend to use sustainable practices? Do residents have solid knowledge of seasonal and regional foods?

Policies. Government policies at all levels affect a community’s food security. On the municipal level, how do land use, transportation, community development, and environmental policies act as barriers or present opportunities to enhance a community’s food security? What funding is available for community food security projects?

Andy Fisher is writing a guidebook on assessing a community’s food security. For more information, contact the Community Food Security Coalition, P.O. Box 209, Venice, CA 90294, (310) 822-5410. Also available from CFSC is a free guidebook on starting community gardens.

This article was reprinted from Why Magazine, a publication of World Hunger Year. For more information, contact WHY, 505 Eight Avenue, 21st Floor, New York, NY 10018-6582; (212) 629-8850.