For my project, I aim to discover the underlying factors that cause inequitable food access among members of the Orange County, North Carolina community and how HOPE Gardens, a student-run community garden/urban farm in Chapel Hill, can most effectively address them. To tackle this question, I must first determine the extent to which members of the community lack access to healthful, nutritional food and evaluate the most common and significant causes of this inequity. I intend to use the Community-Based Research Fellowship to discover these causes through investigative community research and analysis of several factors’ contribution to inequitable food access—volume of healthful food vendors, ease of travel to food sources, and affordability of fresh food. I will also evaluate the garden’s current food production, community engagement, and effectiveness in delivering fresh produce to under-served population. My hope is to use this information to implement new ideas and improve programming at HOPE Gardens that will expand its reach to more people in the community and deepen its impact.
In order to accomplish this, I will survey the population to determine who has the least access to fresh food and establish relationships with community organizations that already serve low income groups such as the St. Joseph’s Bread Ministry, the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, and the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, allowing me to leverage existing knowledge of food access issues in the area. Through interviewing community members about their perceived access to healthy food and whether they feel maintaining a healthy diet that includes fresh produce is affordable I will be able to get a sense of how HOPE Gardens can best serve the community. I will also determine food accessibility by assessing food prices for fresh produce and other nutritional staples in grocery stores and other food vendors and comparing these costs with incomes in the community, as well as evaluating the ease and convenience of physically getting to those vendors for the low-income community. Through my research I will also help to improve the services provided by HOPE Gardens by gaining a more thorough understanding of barriers such as cost and transportation that might prevent low income groups from participating. My hope is that this research will provide crucial information for future, sustainable planting choices that will make maximum impact on food access issues in Orange County.