EL PASO COUNTY — “We’re doing the first ever food systems assessment,” said Colorado Springs Food Rescue, Executive Director, Zac Chapman. The non-profit is partnering with El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Springs Health Fund for research It looks at fresh food access, education and growing opportunities at the neighborhood level.
The study shows not all neighborhoods when it comes to fresh food options. Chapman refers to what he terms “food swamps.” “The whole idea around a food swamp is that in my neighborhood for example, there is a massive proliferation of unhealthy retailers, so corner stores and fast food restaurants, but there are no healthy fresh food access points."
There are multiple barriers to accessing healthier food in these zones. There are some neighborhoods showing from 40% to as many as 70% of homes with no personal transportation.
Chapman gives an example of a senior citizen he knows he cannot drive. “She would have to walk across Academy [Blvd.] and back, a two-hour trip just to get her groceries and she could only carry enough as she could hold. Distance, options and affordability are all barriers to healthy food access.
A second part of the initiative looks for creative solutions. "Going on the ground. Having focus groups within neighborhoods alongside neighbors, really figuring out what are some difference within our particular neighborhoods that we' like to see that would increase health food access," said Chapman. Rather than outsiders initiating change the goal is getting neighborhood specific ideas.
The Hillside Hub, a neighborhood food center, with gardens, fresh food distribution, and education programs is in the works for the Hillside Neighborhood. Other neighborhoods want to expand community gardens. Efforts continue to expand the number of home gardeners willing to donate when their garden produces more than they can use at home.