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Community Food Security



Community food security has roots in disciplines such as community nutrition, nutrition education, public health, sustainable agriculture, and anti-hunger and community development. There is no universally accepted definition of community food security. In the broadest terms, community food security can be described as a prevention-oriented concept that supports the development and enhancement of sustainable, community-based strategies:

  • To improve access of low-income households to healthful nutritious food supplies.
  • To increase the self-reliance of communities in providing for their own food needs.
  • To promote comprehensive responses to local food, farm, and nutrition issues.

Policies and programs implemented under the label of community food security address a diverse range of issues, including:

  • Food availability and affordability.
  • Direct food marketing.
  • Diet-related health problems.
  • Participation in and access to Federal nutrition assistance programs.
  • Ecologically sustainable agricultural production.
  • Farmland preservation.
  • Economic viability of rural communities.
  • Economic opportunity and job security.
  • Community development and social cohesion.

Recent ERS Research

Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues—This comprehensive overview of local food systems explores alternative definitions of local food, estimates market size and reach, describes the characteristics of local consumers and producers, and examines early indications of the economic and health impacts of local food systems. Statistics suggest that local food markets account for a small, but growing, share of U.S. agricultural production. For smaller farms, direct marketing to consumers accounts for a higher percentage of their sales than for larger farms.

Food Environment Atlas—Food environment factors—such as store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics—interact to influence food choices and diet quality. The Food Environment Atlas assembles statistics on food environment indicators to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality and provides a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so. The Atlas currently includes over 160 indicators of the food environment in three broad categories-food choices, health and well-being, and community characteristics.

Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Updated Estimates of Distance to Supermarkets Using 2010 Data—Efforts to encourage Americans to improve their diets and to eat more nutritious foods presume that a wide variety of these foods are accessible to everyone. But for some Americans and in some communities, access to healthy foods may be limited. Using population data from the 2010 Census, income and vehicle availability data from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey, and a 2010 directory of supermarkets, this report estimates that 9.7 percent of the U.S. population, or 29.7 million people, live in low-income areas more than 1 mile from a supermarket. However, only 1.8 percent of all households live more than 1 mile from a supermarket and do not have a vehicle. Estimated distance to the nearest three supermarkets is an indicator of the choices available to consumers and the level of competition among stores. Estimates show that half of the U.S. population lives within 2 miles of three supermarkets.

Examples of Strategies and Activities

  • Farmers' markets that boost incomes of small local farmers and increase consumers' access to fresh produce.
  • Community-supported agriculture programs that provide small-scale farmers with economic stability while ensuring consumer members high-quality produce, often at below retail prices.
  • Farm-to-school initiatives 16x16 - PDF that help local farmers sell fresh fruits and vegetables directly to school meals programs.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach programs such as FNS's Get Involved! that help increase the number of eligible households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Last updated: Monday, August 19, 2013

For more information contact: Alisha Coleman-Jensen and Mark Nord

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