By Jenny Connelly-Bowen, CBN Graduate Research Assistant

Today, we’re sharing maps that examine low food access areas in the St. Louis region. These were compiled using the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Access Research Atlas, a mapping tool that incorporates a range of variables to measure residents’ access to healthy and affordable food.

As the Atlas documentation notes, there are a number of ways to measure food access and to define what makes a neighborhood a food desert. The Atlas can be used to examine several relevant variables, including distance from the nearest supermarket, income levels, and vehicle access. Because urban and rural areas face different geographic realities related to mobility and food access, the Food Access Atlas defines individuals with low food access differently in urban and rural census tracts:

  • In urban tracts, low access defines residents living more than one-half mile or one mile from the nearest supermarket.
  • In rural tracts, low access begins at 10 miles or 20 miles.

To measure income, the USDA relies on data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program, which defines low-income census tracts according to the following criteria:

  • The tract’s poverty rate is 20 percent or greater; or
  • The tract’s median family income is less than or equal to 80 percent of the State-wide median family income; or
  • The tract is in a metropolitan area and has a median family income less than or equal to 80 percent of the metropolitan area’s median family income.

The maps below explore food access in the St. Louis region according to several different measures. All highlight census tracts defined as both low-income and low-access, but you can use the Atlas to create your own maps that separate these variables or examine others. These access measures define a low-access tract as one where at least 500 people or 33 percent of the population live(s) more than a certain distance from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store.

The first map highlights census tracts that are low-income and low-access at more than one mile for urban areas and more than 10 miles for rural areas:

STL LI and LA--1 and 10 miles--with legend

The second map highlights census tracts that are low-income and low-access at more than one-half mile for urban areas and more than 10 miles for rural areas:

STL LI and LA--0.5 and 10 miles--with legend

The third map highlights census tracts that are low-income and low-access at more than one mile for urban areas and more than 20 miles for rural areas:

STL LI and LA--1 and 20 miles--with legend

This last map uses a more complex measure to incorporate vehicle access into the definition of low food access. Here, low-income tracts are highlighted where at least 100 households are more than one-half mile from the nearest supermarket and have no access to a vehicle; or at least 500 people or 33 percent of the population live(s) more than 20 miles from the nearest supermarket, regardless of vehicle access:

STL LI and LA using vehicle access--with legend

To access maps from previous editions of the Community Builders Exchange, click here.