Step 2 - Gathering Information

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An important step in planning for community food security is to perform a Community Food Assessment, where you gather information about the state of food in your community. Thinking about a community’s food security using the Six A’s can help you discover what kind of food security issues your community might be facing and what types of solutions are most suitable. This chapter offers two types of tools to collect information about possible food security issues in your community through the lens of the Six A’s:

1. Community Food Mapping
2. Questionnaires


The Purpose of Community Food Mapping

Community food mapping is a technique used to identify the locations of food assets in a community.  Mapping is often used during the planning process because it is a visual, intuitive, and fun way of locating these assets in a community. These maps can take many forms:

  • actual (geographic map)
  • flow chart or diagram
  • list of food related services and programs

Check out the food mapping section of Chapter 5 for different food mapping examples. 

Community food maps can be used to:

  • help find local food outlets
  • be vital advertising tools for outlets such as restaurants, grocers, community meal programs, and food banks.  
  • be informational tools for planners and community leaders to help identify locations in the community that exist as food deserts (areas facing food access related barriers) or food swamps (areas dominated high-fat, high-calorie foods) and consider issues they can address through community design and other programs  to improve the food environment


Steps of Community Food Mapping

Here are the basic steps involved in using the Community Food Mapping Tools 1A, 1B and 2A. These tools are intended for a workshop type of venue using a physical map. They can be uses as is, or can be modified to suit your needs. 

A number of different platforms are available for the creation and sharing of food maps. There are a number of free online options that allow community members to directly pin food service locations on a map. Halifax is also developing an interactive food map (LINK). Physical food map resources should also be considered for offline use.  

Step 1: Determine the specific purpose

  • Choose what it is about food that you wish to map, eg. location of food outlets & services; travel routes to get food; rating and price range of services; hours of operation; barriers to get to food along the route like traffic, construction and unsafe areas. 
  • Ask participants to map the locations of outlets and services they know about, those that they utilize or they provide, where they live (starting point of travel to food), and the types of food and hours of operation. 
  • Questions are dependent on whether the participants are consumers, food outlets, or service providers. 

Step 2: Invite participants

  • Invite community members or maybe commercial and not-for-profit food service providers? The number of participants will vary depending upon your geographic area, participant level of knowledge and the type of information you would like to collect. 
  • Data collection methods:
  1. place a map in a high traffic area (on a table or wall) and invited people passing by to identify the location of food outlets and services
  2. host a workshop or forum where participants work through the maps and discuss the results. Depending upon the size of the map, 5-10 participants, can work on the same map. Multiple maps can accommodate more participants. Typically these workshops with mapping and discussion take a couple of hours.
  • Survey food outlets and services directly. Or contact them via phone/email to gather their information. Information gathered at the mapping session can help identify food services and outlets in your community that you may wish to approach. 

Step 3: Prepare a base map and secure a venue with large enough tables to work on the map

  • print a map large enough to accommodate the group
  • choose a venue with ample table space to set up and work with the large map(s)

Step 4: Create a map or maps

  • explain purpose of exercise
  • provide tools to complete task: stickers, markers, pencils, etc. 
  • get participants to identify location of the food outlets and services 

Step 5: Discuss the results of the map or maps

  • participant presentations of the mapping results may work well to discuss the results of multiple groups with multiple maps. 
  • multiple sheets of maps may be different sections of a larger geographic area or the same area that can be compared between the groups
  • discussion can include general observations on the resulting maps; whether they are surprised by the results; whether they learned something new; or if everyone is in agreement about the accuracy of the maps. 

Step 6: Record the results to be used for analysis (See Step 3 - Analyzing Food Security in Your Community)

  • facilitator should record the map creation discussion
  • take pictures of the maps to retain electronic copies
  • option to record or transcribe the discussion or have a note taker record the opinions, questions, and suggestions that come up in discussion. 

Step 7: Hand out the result summary to participants

  • give back to participants - provide a summary of the results of the mapping workshop which may include a synthesis of the discussion and/or digital map
  • invite participants to join in any further activities
  • share analysis or action plan or final report if requested

See Chapter 5 for more info on different approaches to food mapping and examples from other communities.

Sample Food Maps

There are many ways you can take the information you have gathered and turn it into a food map, from physical map brochures, to Google Map based platforms to professionally made digital maps. The goal should be to choose a map medium that best suits your community's needs and resources you have to undertake the mapping project. 

Here's an example of a community food mapping pilot exercise carried out for Halifax. The image demonstrates one community mapping method, where the base map was printed and included a pre-defined community area. Participants then mapped out the location of food resources in and around that community. Food maps can be a powerful method for both identifying the locations of food resources and assessing the food awareness of the subgroup.  

See examples of online food maps from South Vancouver. British Columbia and Madison, Wisconsin.