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Health and Wellness

Kinks in the Rural Food System

Data about the food system indicate the extent to which individuals in an area have access to food from retail and direct market sellers.

What Is a Food System?

The term food system refers to the network of people who produce, process, sell or market, transport, consume, and dispose of food. The food system also includes all the various materials, knowledge, skill, and time that serve as inputs or outputs to the production, processing, transportation, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food. Each of these groups of people along with the inputs and outputs that make up the food system interacts with each other and with the social, economic, and environmental systems that surround it.

Oregon Strawberries

Oregon Strawberries:
Oregon Department of Agriculture

Get a spatial overview of community abilities to access healthy food at the USDA Economic Research Service's new Food Environment Atlas.

Kinks in the Rural Food System

Excerpted from: Morton, Lois W., Ella A. Bitto, Mary J. Oakland, and Mary Sand. 2005. Solving the Problems of Iowa Food Deserts: Food Insecurity and Civic Structure. Rural Sociology, Vol. 70(1): 94-112.

"A disproportionate number of low-income people live in areas that have been abandoned by retailing (Leland 1987; Lang and Rayner 2002). Consolidation in the retail food industry has led to fewer but larger food stores (Kaufman 2000; Pollack Associates 2002) and in many rural areas higher food prices, less variety, and lower quality fresh produce and meat compared to suburban and urban stores (Morris et al. 1992; Kaufman 1998). For most of the rural population, changes in the supermarket industry simply mean acquiring new patterns of travel to obtain the family's weekly groceries. However, for elderly and low-income households the loss of rural grocery stores has implications for how they access food and their food security. There is this "...perverse irony that the poorest have to pay more for a basic necessity of life" (Leland 1987:3). Low-income households often do not have a reliable personal vehicle and depend on family, friends, or neighbors (USDA 2003) for getting groceries on a regular basis. Many rural elderly, compared to the general population have less independent access to a vehicle to shop for food. When they do shop, they are likely to shop one, rather than multiple, grocery stores (Bitto et al. 2004). Food insufficiency in older men and women has been predicted by shopping for food once a month or less and getting most of their food from one store (Wooden 2002; Wooden and Oakland 2003).

Farmer Mike Hessel sells melons at the Corvallis Farmers' Market

Farmer Mike Hessel sells melons
at the Corvallis Farmers' Market.
Photo: Tiffany Woods.

"When access to the retail food environment is limited by income or functional disabilities, households devise a variety of coping strategies to solve their food problems. One set of strategies includes utilizing a personal network of friends and family (Olson et al. 1997; USDA 2003; Martin et al. in press). However, individual personal connections to people and safety net services are often insufficient. A local community social structure that addresses food problems is also necessary if long-term solutions to increasing food access and reducing food insecurity are to be achieved...

"Rural areas with high levels of poverty and limited or no food sources place burdens of food availability, access, and quality on low-income populations. Morris et al. (1992) report that in small and medium grocery stores located in persistently poor areas of rural America, food prices for the thrifty food plan market basket specified by USDA are 36 percent higher than the national average. Many solutions to limited supplies of affordable, healthy foods are community rather than individual based. Traditional community solutions include food pantries, senior meal programs, and farmer markets. However, community strategies can also encompass efforts to make locally produced foods available for retail purchase, to build and support local food stores and food production facilities, to develop better transportation networks, and invest in livable wage industries."

Explore on Your Own!

Are there any communities in Oregon that might be considered food deserts? Do the counties with high rates of food insecurity or hunger have low or high prevalence of access to food through retailers or farmers' markets? Why do you think this might be?

Launch the Oregon Communities Reporter Tool

Food-Related Terms

Using the tools of the Oregon Communities Reporter you can examine trends in the food system across the state among the following variables:

  • Farmers' Markets per Capita: The number of farmers' markets listed with the Oregon Farmers' Market Association per 1,000 people.
    Formula: ([# of farmers markets in county]/[total population in county])*1000
    Source: Oregon Farmers' Market Association

  • Grocery Stores per Capita: The number of grocery stores (retail grocers only, including convenience stores) per 1,000 people.
    Formula: ([# of grocery stores]/[total population])*1000
    Source: Yellow Pages

  • Rate of Food Insecurity: The percentage of households with limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or with limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in a socially acceptable way. Calculated at the county level using a model that predicts food insecurity based on highly correlated socio-demographic factors.
    Source: Rural Studies Program, Oregon State University

  • Rate of Food Insecure & Hunger: The percentage of food insecure households that also experienced hunger due to lack of food. Calculated at the county level using a model that predicts food insecurity with hunger based on highly correlated socio-demographic factors.
    Source: Rural Studies Program, Oregon State University

Sources

Excerpted from: Morton, Lois W., Ella A. Bitto, Mary J. Oakland, and Mary Sand. 2005. Solving the Problems of Iowa Food Deserts: Food Insecurity and Civic Structure. Rural Sociology, Vol. 70(1): 94-112.

Authored and compiled by Lena Etuk, Social Demographer, Oregon State University Extension Service (2008)

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