August 2, 2016
When the Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future (CLF) approached OROSW (Operation ReachOut SouthWest) with the idea of community food assessment study, we first had to figure out what a community food assessment, or CFA, is. Essentially, a CFA is a survey that researchers use to get a sense of how much food security or food insecurity a neighborhood is experiencing. We used it to survey people in the neighborhood and get their thoughts on food availability in southwest Baltimore.
We learned so much from the CFA findings. We found that not only are food deserts prevalent, but also that many residents travel outside Southwest Baltimore for their primary grocery shopping—to 29 different supermarkets and other food outlets. We learned that people who completed the survey also prepared home-cooked meals at least three times per week. And we learned that there were other factors associated with the food desert problem. For example, the Class Produce Company (then family-owned by William Deemer) moved to Jessup, a business and economic decision that impacted the arabbers and the neighborhood produce stands in the city.
The community food assessment findings and results became the vehicle to create an awareness plan for residents living in a food desert. A community-supported agriculture (CSA) program was started as a collaboration between CLF and OROSW, and it was conducted like a farmers’ market. The cost of buying a CSA share can be steep, and residents sometimes feel that the produce is overpriced—but when an employee from a local business visited, she bought all the dinosaur kale because our price was much better than the local, upscale organic supermarket.
Here’s the write-up from the Baltimore City Health Department, Neighborhood Health Report Profiles for Southwest Baltimore-2011: “[T]there are very few or no healthy, affordable, fresh options, but many unhealthy options. Thus, improving the food environment is critical to improving health and eliminating health inequities in diet-related outcomes, like obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.”
This fall CLF is partnering with two local organizations, Healthcare for the Homeless and No Boundaries Coalition, to conduct more community food assessments.