Access to fresh, healthy, affordable, local food

Throughout the course of nearly two dozen community planning projects, Sustainable Long Island has identified common issues among communities across the region. One of these common problems is the issue of food equity – the notion that access to fresh produce and healthy food options is not universal and that some communities are at a disadvantage in the regional food system. In light of the severe economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, the need to address the issue of food security in Long Island’s distressed communities became an urgent and pressing need. During the summer of 2009, Sustainable Long Island launched an assessment of the current food system on Long Island to identify challenges and potential solutions.

Communities with limitations in resources, disposable income, language, and transportation often have restricted access to, and knowledge about, a variety of healthy food options.

While there is general agreement that consumption of fresh, healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains are necessary for health and nutritional well-being, some communities across the region, have negative health and economic consequences caused, at least in part, by a lack of access to high-quality food. Supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and community gardens tend not to be as readily available to people in low income, low access communities. The result can be an over-dependence on neighborhood convenience stores with limited offerings of fresh foods sold, frequently for a high price, leading to myriad health and nutritional and long-term sustainability implications.

Many Long Island residents now face barriers to accessing healthful and nutritious foods, and the current economic crisis has only intensified food insecurity; putting a growing number of Long Islanders at risk for hunger, limited food access, and related social, economic and health consequences:

  • The USDA has found that 23.5 million people in America lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home.
  • Obesity, a diet related health outcome, is not evenly distributed across the Long Island population or region. An analysis of Nassau communities conducted by the Nassau County Department of Health indicates that obesity is associated with race/ethnicity; specifically, obesity is more common among blacks than whites.
  • Food insecurity is increasing: Demand for SNAP/Food stamps has increased dramatically in the past several years, with enrollment rising 87% in Nassau and 108% in Suffolk between June 2007 and June 2010. Demand for food from emergency food assistance programs has also intensified, climbing 21% between 2006 and 2009.
  • Supermarkets, farmers’ markets and community gardens tend not to be as readily available to people in low income, low access communities. The result can be an over-dependence on neighborhood convenience stores with limited offerings of fresh foods sold, frequently for a high price, leading to myriad health, nutritional, and long-term sustainability implications.
  • Food agencies are unevenly located and hours of operation are sporadic. Suffolk County especially seems to lack the presence of soup kitchens. This may suggest significant access issues for some Suffolk county residents, especially those without cars and unable to travel significant distances to obtain assistance.
  • Most remaining active farmland is concentrated in the North Fork of eastern Suffolk County. In 2007, 1,288 acres and 34,404 acres were in agriculture production in Nassau and Suffolk Counties respectively. In Suffolk County, 77% of all agricultural land was cropland and in Nassau County 21% was cropland.

Food Equity Report