Evaluating Food Access Strategies in Austin, Texas

Evaluating Food Access Strategies in Austin
Generating Urban Food Systems Solutions

Program Contract

Dr. John Reich
jreich@foundationfar.org

Joy Casnovsky, Sustainable Food Center

Joy Casnovsky

Sustainable Food Center

Year Awarded   2017

FFAR award amount   $996,560

Total award amount   $2,114,226

Location   Austin, Texas

Program   Tipping Points

Matching Funders   Austin Public Health

  • Urban Food Systems

Providing Healthy Food without Displacing Communities

Although Austin, Texas, is often ranked as a healthy city, it also has high rates of food insecurity and obesity, especially among low-income populations. However, opening grocery stores in low-income food deserts can have the unintended effect of increasing property values, risking displacement of long-time residents.

Austin launched the Healthy Foods Access Initiative to provide alternatives for physical and economic access to healthy food. The initiative includes different strategies, such as financial incentives to purchase fruit and vegetables, strategic placement of mobile produce trucks and farm stands at schools and housing complexes, and stocking produce in corner stores and gas stations.

Researchers at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin, in collaboration with Sustainable Food Center, are modeling the impact of these strategies on people’s fruit and vegetable purchase and consumption, and food security. The results will inform the best ways to implement and expand healthy food initiatives.

In addition, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FFAR expanded the existing grant to the researchers to assess how food systems — especially emergency food systems — operate and adapt in times of stress.

Why this research is important

This research is modeling how a multipronged approach to promoting healthy diets best provides access and education without risking gentrification.

  • Growers will gain new markets in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
  • Small neighborhood stores will have easier access to healthier food for their customers.
  • Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color will have easier physical and economic access to healthy, affordable, nutritious food.
  • The models created through this grant will provide the City of Austin with strategies to increase food resiliency among low-income households.
Using agent-based models allows us to go beyond traditional epidemiological approaches to predict human behavior. This can be an efficient approach to simulate the potential impact of built environmental changes and policy scenarios on food-related behaviors such as food purchasing and food consumption patterns. Joy Casnovsky
Deputy Director, Sustainable Food Center

Details About this Research

The project uses existing data collected by the City of Austin, including food environment analysis data, in combination with newly collected project data to model the impact of different healthy food strategies and policies on food purchasing and intake patterns.

Objectives

The overarching goal is to understand how inter-related and inter-dependent food access interventions can lead to sustainable solutions that promote healthy eating and increase economic opportunities.

  • Evaluate the impact of the City of Austin’s Healthy Food Access Initiative strategies on fruit and vegetable purchasing and consumption, food security among residents in low-income communities.
  • Create an agent-based model to test a series of environmental and policy scenarios and their impact on food purchasing and intake patterns.

How This Research Contributes to Our Missions

We leverage knowledge from investments in food systems to develop sustainable solutions promoting health and economic opportunities. This research combines data from Austin’s current strategies with new, long-term data to model the impact of strategic scale-up.

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