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Increasing Access to Healthy Local Food

Within cities, residents face stark disparities in their access to fresh, healthy produce, with low-income communities often the most affected by this limited access. Inequitable access to food perpetuates poor health outcomes among low-income populations and undermines efforts to improve public health and promote community. The increase in diet-related diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and some cancers have put us on a path to change modern history: many children born today will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.  In addition to nutritional and health impacts, the flow of food dollars out of the region represent a significant loss for local economies. Yet there are bright spots of innovation, where local policies promote and increase residents’ access to healthy food. While there is no single solution to address this large and interconnected system of access to affordable, healthy food, there is a range policy strategies that can help develop local food capacities, enhance public health and improve urban economies.

Green for Greens: Finding Public Funding for Healthy Food, Serena Unger, Hannah Laurison, and Christine Fry, National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, January 1st, 2012. Read more.

Getting to Grocery: Tools for Attracting Healthy Food Retail to Underserved Neighborhoods, ChangeLab Solutions, January 1st, 2012. Read more.

Seeding the City: Land Use Policies to Promote Urban Agriculture, Heather Wooten and Amy Ackerman, National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, October 1st, 2011. Read more.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/EBT) At Your Farmers’ Market: Seven Strategies, Nora Owens and Kelly Verel, Project for Public Spaces and Wholesome Wave, July 1st, 2010. Read more.

Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets, Suzanne Briggs, Andy Fisher, Megan Lott, Stacy Miller and Nell Tessman, Community Food Security Coalition and Farmers Market Coalition, June 1st, 2010. Read more.

Establishing Land Use Protections for Farmers’ Market, National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, December 1st, 2009. Read more.

Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned, Alethea Harper, Annie Shattuck, Eric Holt-Giménez, Alison Alkon and Frances Lambrick, Institute for Food and Development Policy, January 1st, 2009.

Diversifying Farmers Markets: New Opportunities for Farmers, Communities, and Consumers, Project for Public Spaces, January 1st, 2008. Read more.

Funding Opportunities for Community Gardens, American Community Gardening Association. Read more.

Supporting Your Farmers’ Market: A guide for municipalities, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT). Read more.

Planning and Policy Briefs, Growing Food Connections. Read more.

Local Government Food Policy Database, Growing Food Connections. Read more.

The Webb City, MO market created a Market Roots event to both promote community-building and boost market attendance and participation. To recognize the diversity among farmers and market customers, including Hmong, Latino, Irish and Native American cultures, vendors displayed signs showing their countries or origin.


Crop Circle Kitchen in Boston, MA provides an excellent model for supporting inner city vendors of value-added local products. This program serves as an incubator for businesses producing local food, such as catering, bakeries, ethnic food cards, and specialty products like chocolate and popcorn. The Kitchen provides access to cold and frozen storage, processing equipment, and one-on-one mentoring, including business and legal planning. Cities could promote similar initiatives by providing free or low cost storage space for a business incubator, or negotiating access to city food preparation facilities in their off-hours (such as evenings and weekends in school kitchens). 


Minneapolis, MN facilitates the creation of “mini markets,” with five or fewer vendors, by requiring a simpler, less expensive zoning process.


Hartford, CT added a cross-town bus route that cuts travel time in half for low-income residents trying to reach jobs and stores, particularly a major supermarket. A survey showed ridership increased by more than 100 percent in the first year, and that a third of riders were using the line to reach a major supermarket.


Fresno, CA recently modified their zoning code to explicitly allow farmers’ markets in city limits. The City is also partnering with public schools to host free markets on school grounds.


Madison, WI passed an ordinance that makes it legal to garden in the terrace – the strip of land between the street and sidewalk – in residential areas.


San Francisco, CA Mayor Ed Lee signed an ordinance, known as the “Salad Law”, rewriting the city Planning Code to allow urban agriculture in all areas of the city. The new code lifts a longstanding prohibition on selling homegrown produce without a costly business permit. The Salad Law allows for the sale or donation of fresh food and horticultural products grown in the city and for the sale of “value-added products” such as jams or pickles.


Chicago, IL recently adopted zoning code changes to allow land to be used for agricultural purposes, expanding allowable urban growing areas to 25,000 square feet. The new code also relaxes rules for parking and fencing, and allows farmers to use aquaponics for growing.


Red Hook Farms in Brooklyn, NY also runs a model urban agriculture program. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation worked closely with Red Hook Farms to convert a city-owned block into a vibrant farm.


Baltimore, MD's Food Policy Task Force established the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative (BFPI) within the Office of Sustainability. This innovative BFPI has four staff (one is city-funded and three are grant-funded) to coordinate food policy efforts, monitor policy changes at the federal and state levels, leverage grant funding for local programs, and support implementation of programs across four city departments.


Ceri Jenkins
Promoting Access to Healthy, Local Food
This report provides your city with a range of policies that promote and increase residents’ access to healthy food.

Local Food and Economic Development
This report provides your city with policies to help grow your local food value chain.