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What Can the Food Environment Atlas Tell You?

Understanding a community’s food environment is key to understanding a community’s identity.  But what can a “food environment” tell us?

A community’s food environment is a technical term for assessing information about the who, what, where, and how of food availability in a given community: Who are the people in the community?

What kinds of food outlets are available in their area? How accessible are grocery stores and supermarkets? What are some of the health statistics?

These are a lot of questions to ask, and a lot of information to process. That’s where the USDA’s Food Environment Atlas comes in.  In 2010, USDA first released the Food Environment Atlas, an online mapping tool that compares the food environment at the county level across the country. There were 90 indicators to choose from in the 2010 version, including the number and types of food stores and restaurants, price data for food, and information about participation rates for nutrition benefits like SNAP.  These data sets could be sorted and mapped to get a more comprehensive understanding of a county’s food environment. Users could pull the Atlas data and build their own custom food environment maps, or compare the food environments across different counties.

Like communities, food environments are ever evolving.  That’s why we have updated the Atlas annually.

Today, I’m delighted to announce that the 2012 version of the Food Environment Atlas is now available and offers even more insight into sources of food in communities.  There are now 168 searchable factors, including new data on numbers of vegetable farms, fruit orchards, and greenhouses growing vegetables or herbs.  You can also see how many farmers markets are in each county (including the number per 1,000 residents), which counties have food hubs, how many farms are participating in agri-tourism and how many farmers sell their products directly to consumers.  Merge this with data about the availability of food stores and restaurants, food prices and taxes, use of food assistance programs, and other socioeconomic and demographic statistics, and suddenly you have a deeper understanding of how Americans experience food environments county by county in map form.

Since 2011, there were over 125,000 visitors to the Food Environment Atlas. What will you discover about the food environment in your county?

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