This is a guest post by our research aide, Giulia Pasciuto, who has been leading a research project I am collaborating on with the Seattle Women’s Commission to better understand the barriers and solutions to healthy food access for women in Seattle.
We finally have the results from our four-month qualitative research project to prioritize recommendations and policy interventions and recommendations to increase access to healthy food based in the experiences of women who live in Delridge. Through 57 surveys and three focus-groups with a total of 40 women and youth in Delridge organized with community partners, the research team facilitated a conversation about where women get healthy food, how they get there, and the challenges they see and experience. Finally, through a voting exercise women prioritized the solutions and recommendations that would make it easier to get healthy food home.
The research team administered 57 surveys with female food bank clients over a two-week period leading up to the workshop. The surveys were taken in six languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer, Amharic, and Somali. When asked where they get their healthy food, participants were most likely to go to the grocery store and the food bank, but less likely to shop at the convenience store or the farmer’s market.
The most common mode of transportation for food bank clients was the bus, with 46 percent of responses, followed by driving (20 percent). Walking, carpooling with a friend or family member, or biking were less likely forms of transportation.
When asked whether it was hard to get healthy food for themselves or their families verbally, most respondents said ‘no.’ But, when probed further most respondents stated that the cost of healthy food was a major barrier (35 percent of responses), exacerbated by recent cuts to federal and state subsidies (20 percent of responses). Only 11 percent of responses indicated that the distance to the grocery store limited access to healthy food. Respondents did not believe that the cost of the bus or limited transit service in the area impeded access to healthy food (less than 5 percent each). Ten percent of responses stated that it is not, in fact, hard to get healthy food.
Nearly one third (31 percent) of responses specified that an affordable farmer’s market would make it easier to access healthy food. Survey responses showed that the next most important solutions are affordable produce delivery to homes or central locations (18 percent), a grocery store nearby (14 percent), a bus route directed toward healthy food (12 percent), more space and training to garden (11 percent), longer bus hours (8 percent), and more bus stops (6 percent).
Survey findings indicate that respondents believe that cost and economic factors are the most significant barriers to accessing healthy food. Access to healthy food in Delridge and West Seattle, according to survey respondents, could improve with the siting of an affordable farmer’s market in the neighborhood.
Top Priorities for Women in Delridge
- Community Economic Opportunity: In a city that is quickly becoming less affordable for working families, higher costs of housing and transportation have left little income for food and recent cuts to federal and state supplemental food programs have been cut significantly. Better jobs and more accessible food prices, according to residents, could help mitigate and remove barriers to accessing healthy food. Participants defined ‘Community Economic Opportunity’ as good jobs at a wide-range of skill-levels in or near the community for current residents; affordable high quality and organic produce; opportunities to build social capital through learning about growing and cooking healthy food; and potential for developing healthy food income-generating opportunities in like a Farm or Community Kitchen. Participants specified that better economic opportunities would increase access to healthy food for the neighborhood, but wanted to ensure that future economic development would not displace current residents.
- Improved Transportation Options: At two workshops, participants prioritized increasing the frequency of buses in Delridge, including the King County METRO operated 120, 128, and 50 especially at night. Greater frequency would reduce crowded bus conditions, which can make women feel vulnerable/ uncomfortable. There was some agreement that riding public transportation was unsafe. Participants felt that the buses brought riders to healthy food, but that the inconvenience of bringing dependents and heavy grocery items prevented participants from using public transportation for grocery shopping trips. Only youth felt that the cost of the bus was prohibitive, though few participants overall used public transit for grocery trips.
- Permanent Affordable Healthy Food Retail: Some participants believed a cooperative model would best suit the needs of the community. A cooperative grocery along the Delridge corridor is in development, set to open in August 2014 located centrally along the corridor. Other participants were less specific about the type of store, but indicated the importance of local ownership and that the best location would be near Home Depot or the Delridge Library.
In conclusion, women in Delridge have prioritized improving community economic opportunity in their neighborhood as the top solution to limited healthy food access, with improved transit, and a permanent grocery close behind. Findings mirror a slew of recent studies and reports determining that economic barriers are more indicative of poor health outcomes and less fresh fruit and vegetable consumption than proximity barriers. Outcomes from the Seattle Women and Food Access research project resemble recent findings from a study published in the Journal of Health Affairs (2014), which found that interventions to increase physical access to healthy food, through the development of a full-service grocery store, did not significantly impact reported fruit and vegetable intake. In 2013, Adam Dresnowski from the University of Washington found that rates of obesity in low-income communities in Seattle are more closely associated with income than proximity to a grocery store. The 2013 evaluation of the Fresh Bucks program and the Got Green Women in the Green Economy report both state that cost is the most significant barrier to buying healthy food.These studies reinforce the priority to increase community economic opportunity in Delridge as a means to increase access to healthy food. Priorities identified through this research emphasize that limited access food access is not a challenge the City can address in isolation. Our findings parallel policy conversations in the City about housing affordability and good jobs.
Read the full report here: Seattle Women and Food Access: Learning from Women in Delridge.