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food environment atlas

ERS' Food Environment Atlas Maps the Interplay of Farmers' Markets and SNAP

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog.  Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

As economists, we recognize that people respond to incentives, and prices are among the strongest incentives. So as the price of something falls, people will generally purchase more of it. It’s a principle that policymakers and health advocates sometimes apply to encourage healthy dietary choices—such as eating more fruits and vegetables. The Agricultural Act of 2014 sets up a new grant program to support projects that encourage participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to buy more fruits and vegetables. The grants will provide Federal matching funds to nonprofit and governmental organizations for projects that reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables to SNAP recipients. Many of these efforts currently focus on increasing SNAP recipients’ buying power at farmers’ markets.

Dive Deeper Into USDA Data with New APIs

Data consumers can now more easily leverage several of the most popular offerings from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS)!

To meet the needs of a growing community of data users, including application developers and researchers, ERS has just released seven new APIs (Application Programming Interface), enriched with shared services provided by other Federal agencies.  The APIs offer dynamic access to ERS’s atlases, traditional data sets, and indicators in machine-readable formats.  ERS has developed rigorous standards for data products; users will note the extensive metadata and full documentation and transparency provided for each of the data sets via APIs.

Experienced users may want to dive into the thorough documentation available on ERS’s Developer page; while those seeking a simpler path can leverage pre-built widgets and starter-code snippets available in jQuery, Python, and Ruby.  The geospatial APIs provide access to map layers via ESRI (or other mapping services, such as Mapbox and Google Maps).  The newly released APIs supplement the following data sets:

Updated Food Environment Atlas Provides Rich Data on Local Foods

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA's rich science and research profile.

Interest in local and regional food systems has expanded in recent years. The evidence is everywhere: from the number of farmers markets more than doubling nationwide since 2004, to the rising popularity of “community supported agriculture” (CSA) participation, to the increasingly common sight of restaurants and retail grocery outlets stocking and promoting meat and produce from local farmers and ranchers. This consumer trend has implications for the farms that supply these markets, firms across the retail supply chain, and policy makers at the federal, state and local levels that often promote local foods in various nutrition, food assistance and community development programs.

What Can the Food Environment Atlas Tell You?

Understanding a community’s food environment is key to understanding a community’s identity.  But what can a “food environment” tell us?

A community’s food environment is a technical term for assessing information about the who, what, where, and how of food availability in a given community: Who are the people in the community?

What kinds of food outlets are available in their area? How accessible are grocery stores and supermarkets? What are some of the health statistics?

A Milestone Year for USDA’s Economic Research Service

This year, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) celebrates its 50th anniversary. ERS was established on April 3, 1961 during the Kennedy Administration, when USDA combined the Department’s economic research functions into one agency. The functions of our predecessor agency, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE, dating from 1922), had been dispersed in 1953 to other USDA offices, and many former BAE economists found a home in the new ERS.

This week, ERS is marking the occasion with a day-long symposium in USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium, featuring speakers from government and the research community who will focus on the agency’s contributions to public policy and the social sciences. USDA employees and the public are invited to the symposium.

Mapping the Food Environment

About this time last year, the city of Washington, DC was digging out from a record amount of snow.  My colleagues at USDA’s Economic Research Service were communicating electronically to get a new web-based mapping tool – the Food Environment Atlas – up and running. This online tool, which measures a community’s food-choice landscape, was to play a key role in the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let's Move! campaign against childhood obesity.

ERS Announces Partnership with the National Farm to School Network

This week my kids headed back to school, and I’ll be busier than last year, having been drafted to be PTA president.  While  getting to know the new parents at our school, I learned that several are interested in improving school meals and exploring the possibility of purchasing locally and starting a school vegetable garden.  Our new principal is interested too.  I myself have something of a brown thumb, but everyone was excited to hear that I work at the Department of Agriculture and had have been studying Farm to School initiatives throughout the country. I have been in close touch with USDA’s Farm to School team that will visit 15 school districts across the country to learn about their Farm to School activities.

When our agency, the Economic Research Service (ERS), put together the Food Environment Atlas earlier this year, we included information on which counties had at least one Farm to School program, using data from the National Farm to School Network.  The Network maintains the only national data base of Farm to School programs.  After the Atlas was released on our website, we received phone calls from programs that hadn’t been included, and this underscored the need to build a complete data base of these programs.