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York Road Initiative survey: Residents cite lack of money, not transportation, as driver of ‘food deserts’ in some Baltimore communities

November 20, 2013 | By Nick Alexopulos

Govanstowne Farmers' Market York Road Initiative Loyola University Maryland
Patrons purchasing fresh produce at the York Road Initiative's Govanstowne Farmers' Market in July 2012.

A survey by Loyola University Maryland’s York Road Initiative has found that members of some Baltimore communities struggle to access fresh, healthy food because of significant financial burdens rather than the availability of transportation.

The survey, administered in partnership with the Baltimore City Food Policy Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, asked 170 residents of neighborhoods in north and northeast Baltimore about their ability and desire to obtain fresh food, and the barriers they experience. More than half (51 percent) of those surveyed said they were often or sometimes unable to purchase food in order to pay rent, utilities, and other costs, while 57 percent receive state or federal food assistance and 64 percent receive some or all of their food from food banks.

“Some of the neighborhoods along the York Road corridor east of Loyola’s Evergreen campus are deemed ‘food deserts’ based on factors related to income, distance to supermarkets, and vehicle availability,” said Erin O’Keefe, ’03, director of the York Road Initiative. “However, we recognized we needed a deeper understanding of the specific barriers preventing the greatest access to food in an effort to more strategically address the problems.”

Residents were surveyed throughout winter 2012-spring 2013. The focus area was north/south between Northern Parkway and 39th Street, and east/west between The Alameda and Charles Street. Those communities are the target market for the York Road Initiative’s Govanstowne Farmers’ Market, which has grown exponentially in terms of customers, vendors, and frequency in each of the three years since its inception. The farmers’ market addresses both need and access, but there is still work to do.

"The term ‘food desert’ masks the real problem,” said Brett Kirkpatrick, M.S. ’15, research coordinator for the food access survey. “Most people who live in an area where food isn't nearby will find a way to attain it. But attaining food, whether a healthy option or not, contains more salient factors, including overall income, knowledge, and ability.”

The York Road Initiative plans to use the survey results to strengthen collaborative efforts among neighborhood organizations working to increase access to food for residents.

Additional survey highlights:

  • 64% of those surveyed were age 50 or older
  • 69% are interested in the healthy preparation of food
  • 59% give “low prices” as the reason for shopping at a particular store
  • 71% visited a farmers’ market in the past six months
  • 27% cannot find fresh fruits in their neighborhood; 30% cannot find vegetables

About the York Road Initiative:
Loyola’s York Road Initiative collaborates with neighbors and partners to produce positive change in our York Road community. The initiative focuses on the educational development, health, and well-being of community residents and the economic viability of neighborhoods, including residential and retail establishments. Current programs include operating the Govanstowne Farmers’ Market June through September, where federal SNAP benefits and incentives from Maryland Hunger Solutions, as well as vouchers from area food pantries, are accepted. Additionally, Loyola offers educational programs on healthy eating and financing, including Share Our Strength’s Shopping, Cooking Matters, and Market to Mealtime.

Click the image below to view a graphical summary of the survey results.

Food access survey Loyola University Maryland York Road Initiative

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