Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping is a platform that allows users to create a graphic depiction of a combination of important geographic attributes. For example, the map may include detailed information such as streets, zip codes, and program locations along with other types of data, such as, neighborhood demographic data, program participant characteristics, and program outcome measures. Additionally, maps may include geographic landscape, such as mountain ranges, dirt roads, and other features that contribute to food access such as locations of farmers markets, grocery stores, and farm stands. Conversely, the absence of these features will also be apparent. Analyzing maps may help identify potential patterns or relationships between multiple factors.
There is a variety of free mapping tools available. Google My Maps is user-friendly, cross-platform, and cloud-based, which eliminates the need to download software onto your computer and can be accessed from any computer.
Another cross-platform, no-cost, cloud-based option is QGIS, which has more sophisticated capabilities and features than Google, similar to what is found in the license-based programs below.
eSpatial is a cross-platform, cloud-based mapping program. eSpatial offers a cost-free option that provides limited capabilities, or, for an annual fee, users can upgrade to a variety of additional, more sophisticated features.
ArcGIS is designed to run on a PC, though can be installed in a Mac that is set up to run Windows. They offer a monthly subscription for their online program, or downloadable version of the program that requires an annual license.
All these mapping programs are capable of linking to users' datasets.
The USDA has developed a series of Local and Regional Food Sector Maps and Directories that provides data on local resources, demographics, and agricultural information. Among these is the Food Environment Atlas, which is preloaded with food-related data, such as food prices, proximity to retail outlets, and health indicators. Users are able to create county-level visualizations as well as download data into an Excel spreadsheet in the Food Environment Atlas.
Resources to Learn More
Maryland Food System Map
Interactive mapping platform with embedded data on Maryland's food system, environment, and public health. Allows users to examine Maryland's current food system by selecting desired indicators and producing customized maps.
Organization(s): Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future