Approaches to Increase Access to Foods that Support Healthy Eating Patterns
Many rural areas have limited
access to healthy, affordable foods. Food deserts can be found in rural areas where supermarkets or
grocery stores are scarce, which directly contributes to food insecurity. These areas may instead have more
convenience stores which are more likely to sell processed, shelf-stable goods rather than fresh produce. As a
result, residents may have to travel to find healthy food, which can be more challenging for those without
reliable access to transportation.
Rural residents who lack reliable transportation are particularly isolated, given the distance to the grocery
store in rural communities and lack of public transportation options. These findings suggest the complexity of
food access and its relationship to poverty
Several promising approaches have been identified to help rural
communities improve access and promote increased availability and affordability of nutritious foods. These
See Approaches to Improving Food Insecurity in
School Settings for additional information about food assistance programs for children.
Examples of Programs to Increase Access to Foods that Support Healthy Eating Patterns
GrowingChange is working to turn a decommissioned prison in
rural North Carolina into a sustainable farm to educate and employ youth at risk of entering the criminal
justice system and returning veterans. GrowingChange began as a program combining cognitive behavioral
therapy for at-risk youth with a service learning component and a focus on professional development. In its
early years, the program developed community gardens and put together boxes of produce grown in the gardens
for families in need of fresh produce. Now GrowingChange is focusing on providing education and training,
helping youth acquire skills to address food insecurity in the region. The program will teach participants
sustainable agriculture skills and leadership skills. They are also aiming to sell crops grown on the farm
to local restaurants and to develop community-supported agriculture to improve economic stability and create
Community Outreach & Patient
Empowerment (COPE) strives to improve health and equity by empowering Native communities through 3
main strategies: community-based outreach, local capacity building and system-level partnerships, and
increasing access to healthy foods. To improve access to healthy foods in the Navajo Nation, COPE
administers programs such as the Navajo Wholesome Rx:
Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx), the Healthy Navajo Stores
Initiative, and the Growers Initiative. FVRx engages local health clinics to provide free vouchers
for fruits and vegetables to underserved people in an effort to improve consumption of healthy foods.
Families can use these vouchers at local food retailers, which then send used vouchers to COPE to be
processed for reimbursement. The Healthy Navajo Stores Initiative is improving access to healthy and
traditional foods in Navajo Nation by helping small stores better stock and market these healthier products.
Appalachian Sustainable Development has been working since
1995 to connect communities with local, healthy produce and to improve the local economy. They help farmers
in Appalachia build up their businesses and partner with other sectors in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio
to provide a variety of economic development opportunities. Some of their food access programs provide support and
technical assistance for families to grow their own food. For example, Healthy Families-Healthy Farms, is a
donor-funded program that purchases produce from farms for local food banks and pantries.
The Farm & Food Education Center provides educational
opportunities for youth and families in rural Tennessee to teach sustainable agriculture techniques and how
to build businesses around local foods. Their mission is to improve the community and to increase the
consumption of healthy foods. They operate several programs including the Farm & Food Teen Training Program,
Farmer and Rancher Mentoring, and Farm Day Camps. They also are helping residents
develop community gardens to grow local produce to address food insecurity.
In many rural areas, access to healthy foods may be limited because of transportation challenges or distances to
get to healthy food options. In addition, in some communities, there may be stigma about programs that address
food insecurity or a lack of awareness about their availability. Finding sustainable strategies is important
when considering new programs or improvements to local food systems.
Although there are many factors that inform the success of food access initiatives, attention must be paid to
how well-positioned a community is to implement a strategy. The health of the food
environment is one method to determine readiness and it can be measured in several different ways, such
as a community food assessment. This
tool collects information from community members on what they identify as assets to the local food environment
as well as opportunities for improvement.
Where to establish an initiative is a critical consideration. In some communities, bolstering an existing or building a new
retail environment would yield the greatest results. In other communities, targeting specific
demographics may be the best point of intervention, such as targeting:
Program Clearinghouse Examples
Resources to Learn More
Healthy Food Access
Compilation of research-based resources that focus on increasing access to healthy food in low-access areas,
including low income and rural communities. Visitors can sign up to receive email notifications when new
resources are added.
Organization(s): Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Municipal Strategies to Increase Food Access
Presents multiple strategies that municipalities and food system advocates can use to increase access to healthy
Organization(s): Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Metropolitan
Area Planning Council, Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, Massachusetts Municipal Association
Strategies in Rural Communities
Webinar outlining a framework for addressing four types of issues that affect access to food: physical,
economic, cultural, knowledge. Provides both community-level and policy-level suggestions to help develop, fund,
and implement a rural food access strategy.
Author(s): Wooten, H., Fry, C., Redfern, T., & Holady, R.
Organization(s): ChangeLab Solutions
Access to Healthy Food in Rural Communities
Slides from a webinar highlighting three programs across the country (Rural Grocery Initiative in KS, The
Conservation Fund in NC, Farm to Table in NM) that are using innovative approaches and methods to address food
Author(s): Laveta, T., Procter, D., Roy, P., & Sager, M.
Organization(s): Grantmakers in Health