What is the Food Environment?
There are different places people can buy or grow food: grocery stores, farmers’ markets, restaurants, community gardens and personal gardens. The different places to grow or buy food are called a food environment.
Why Is the Food Environment important?
The food environment is important because it determines what kinds of foods people have in their communities. When we think of a eating, most people think of a person and what they eat every day. When we take a step back and think about how people get the food they eat, we realize that communities have a big impact on the food options people have available to them.
Not all communities have the same food environments. Some communities have very little healthy food options in their food environment and that’s a problem. Making it easier to eat healthy by increasing access to healthy foods creates healthier communities.
How Can You Improve Your Community’s Access to Healthy Foods?
There are many options for improving healthy food access, ranging from policies and initiatives that impact large supermarkets to smaller local programs, including:
- Farmers' Markets
- Communities start farmers’ markets to increase the availability of fresh, high quality fruits and vegetables.
- Search for a farmer’s market in your community.
- Farmer’s marker resources
- Community Garden Development and Land Use Policy
- Community gardens are spaces where families, organizations, and community members can come together to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables. Municipalities may have policies that limit where a community (or home) garden may be located, preventing communities from growing their own food.
- Community garden resources:
- Corner Stores or Small Grocery Stores
- We are working with local corner stores to improve the availability of healthy foods in our Healthy HotSpots program. Most times, these stores are located in communities with few or no supermarkets, and usually stock a more unhealthy soft drinks, candies and high fat snacks. These stores may be located near schools and the products students buy can contribute to health problems such as obesity. Learn more about Healthy HotSpots.
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Most times, a CSA is an arrangement between a farm and people interested in buying fresh, seasonal produce from a grower they know. Customers buy a share of the farm’s crops in a particular season. CSAs may include dairy, eggs, or meat and the foods may be delivered to a central location, or to an individual’s home. Sometimes, a produce distributor may combine the harvest of multiple local farms to create a seasonal market box for sale.
- Because CSAs offer fresh, seasonal foods based on harvest size, the quantity and type of specific products is not always predictable. Find a local CSA here.
- CSA resources
- Farm Stands
- Located on or near farms, farm stands provide direct sales from smaller farms to consumers.
- Farm stand resources
- Mobile Produce Vendors
- Typically, mobile produce vendors consist of a truck parked at specific locations on certain days and sells fresh produce. Mobile vendors also may provide a door-to-door produce delivery service. Municipal policies may limit where a vendor can set up and may need to be changed before the service is provided.
- Mobile produce vending resources
- Co-ops and Buying Clubs
- Co-ops and buying clubs are member-supported or owned ways to save money through group purchasing of foods. They may be an informal group of people or an entire grocery store.
- Co-op or buying club resources
- Get Involved
- Join an Alliance for Healthy & Active Communities (AHAC) to learn how to increase the availability, accessibility, and demand for healthy nutritional options in your own community.
- Become a member of Cook County Connects. Cook County Connects features an online social network connecting hundreds of people working to make suburban Cook County a healthier place to live, work, and play. Members come from entities throughout suburban Cook County, including community-based organizations, local governments, and school systems. Join today to connect with, learn from, and share best practices with others in suburban Cook County. To join, fill out a member request form.