September 16, 2010
Last Tuesday I spent the evening at the Clifton Mansion, home of Civic Works, the umbrella organization of Real Food Farm (RFF), a new urban agriculture project. The occasion was Digging for Data, an event held jointly by the Center for a Livable Future and Civic Works.
Located on six acres of Clifton Park in northeast Baltimore, Real Food Farm utilizes high-tunnel hoop houses (low-cost, low-input greenhouses) to produce pesticide-free fruits, vegetables, and herbs for Baltimore residents. In October 2009, Real Food Farm collaborated with the Safe Healing Foundation to erect the first three. In the future, there will be 20 hoop houses in Clifton Park-18 for production, one for processing and packaging, and one for education and training.
The farm aims to improve community access to organic, wholesome and real food, addressing the problem of food deserts and promoting healthy living. RFF also strives to localize Baltimore’s food consumption, decreasing residents’ carbon footprint, improving the watershed and increasing community development.
Community food assessments offer a one-time snapshot of the food landscape in a given community. On behalf of the farm, the Center for a Livable Future conducted a community food assessment in Clifton Park to explore residents’ experiences with food shopping in the neighborhood, their barriers to accessing healthy food, and how Real Food Farm can best market its produce to most effectively increase healthy food access. In part of the survey, respondents were asked what produce they would be most likely to purchase and how, where and when they would be most likely to purchase it.
At Digging for Data: The Results of the Clifton Park Community Food Assessment, Real Food Farm Manager Tyler Brown; Mark Washington, Executive Director of the Coldstream/Homestead/Montebello Community Association; and Anne Palmer, Eating for the Future Program Director for the Center for a Livable Future, welcomed thirty or so attendees and described the history and importance of the project. Next, we heard from three of the data collectors-representatives from Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), the Coldstream/Homestead/Montebello Association (CHM), and Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. on their experiences administering the surveys to community members. Joyce Smith of Operation Reachout Southwest gave an introduction to community food assessments and Sarah Rodman, Research Project Coordinator for the Center for a Livable Future, presented the results of the Clifton Park assessment. Below are a few interesting findings:
- 95% of respondents would buy food from Clifton Park if it were for sale in their area.
- 33% responded that they believed fruits and vegetables are more expensive in their neighborhood than in other neighborhoods.
- 65% of respondents want to buy certain food that is unavailable in their neighborhoods.
- 37% said they are “often” or “sometimes” unable to buy healthy food because they are out of money or assistance.
- The percent of household members with heart disease was significantly higher in those who “often” are unable to buy healthy food due to lack of funds (26%) than in those who are never unable to (4%).
- 18% participate in a community garden; 57% of those who do not are interested in participating in one.
The data from the Clifton Park community food assessment begin to quantify the need to improve access to healthy food in Clifton Park and the best methods to do so. This isn’t the first community food assessment the Center for a Livable Future has conducted and it won’t be the last. Precise food-related data are notoriously difficult to collect, but a community food assessment is a powerful tool available to anyone seeking to get a pulse on the food landscape in a given community.