Community Food Assessment reveals problems with food distribution, accessibility

AP

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Data from the Community Food Assessment was presented to Columbia residents at the Activity and Recreation Center Thursday night. The community health survey was conducted through March 16 by Live Well Boone County and the Build This Town Campaign for the construction of the Agriculture Park.

The assessment, organized by the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, revealed problems in residents’ access to food. Some of the most prominent issues were grocery store distribution, availability of healthy and affordable food options and transportation to food sources.

The assessment consisted of three parts: a community health survey, focus groups and food inventory. It focused on three neighborhoods in central, east and north Columbia.

Answers from the 1,988 respondents were intended to “assist in the development of future programming working to improve the regional health environment in Boone County,” according to the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services website.

One hundred and nine people participated in small focus groups to share their thoughts about Columbia’s food environment, its strengths, its weaknesses and how the agriculture park could help these problems.

Some of the data presented at the event were the city’s Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey scores, which measures food availability, price, accessibility and overall healthfulness. The majority of Columbia had low scores, meaning food in those areas was less healthy, with a few pockets of high scores scattered throughout the city.

NEMS Health Score: Grocery and Neighborhoods The NEMS measures food availability, price, accessibility and overall healthfulness. Red areas are the locations of grocery and convenience stores with high healthfulness scores. The green areas have no available stores or low scores.

The three focus neighborhoods in the survey had NEMS scores 25 to 40 percent lower than that of the rest of the city. This means that people in these neighborhoods have to travel further than people in other neighborhoods to access healthy food.

The final aspect of the assessment was food inventory. Researchers surveyed 188 food establishments including restaurants, convenience stores and groceries stores for availability, price, accessibility and overall healthfulness.

The findings of the inventory were displayed on a map detailing the location of stores, restaurants, pantries and community gardens in the city. The map showed an abundance of food options in the central and south central regions of Columbia, but fewer options closer to city limits.

Columbia Food Landscape A map of Columbia shows that the central and southern parts of the city have the greatest number of food outlets.

The community is heavily involved in the process because the park needs to serve the community, said Billy Polansky, executive director of Build This Town.

“We need to make sure we’re providing programming that serves people best,” Polanksy said. “We want to make sure this agriculture park is relevant to people’s lives.”

The data presented also included comments from the community. One of the issues brought to light was the difficulty low-income people may have storing food to eat later.

Lisa Lenoir, an attendee of the event who is interested in food security, was surprised by some of the data.

“It makes you think about your relationship to food,” Lenoir said. “It brings about a level of empathy for what’s been your past experience and what’s the current experience of people that you may not know or people within your community. They may have a very different experience.”

Lenoir said she wonders why this is such a problem when society has the technology and access to resources that it has today.

This is something the creators of the agriculture park are trying to help fix.

The first phase of construction on the park is estimated to be finished by November, and Polansky hopes they can start growing food in 2019.

A community celebration will be held in August where a report with more data will be released.

Supervising editor is Titus Wu: news@columbiamissourian.com, 882-7884.

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