A Comprehensive Community Food Assessment for Maricopa County

The Maricopa County Food System Coalition's Food Assessment Coordination Team (FACT) began planning for a regional food assessment back in Summer 2015, and we are excited to share our results here. We are using a community-driven approach, which means the process is collaborative and ongoing. You will find summaries of each of the core components of our Comprehensive Community Food Assessment on this page including links for more in-depth highlights and full reports. Scroll down or use the navigation bar at the top for easy access to each topic area.

A Community Food Assessment is an evaluation tool used to measure the food assets and needs of a specific community or region, and point to opportunities for improvement. This Community Food Assessment will allow us to:

1. Inform ourselves and others on the nature of the food system as it currently operates within the Central Arizona Region.

2. Inform ourselves and others on the existing assets, needs and opportunities to support and grow a food system in the region that is equitable, healthy, sustainable, and thriving.

3. Apply the results of the assessment to the development of short and long-term coalition action plans.

The Maricopa County Food System Coalition (MarCo) plans to utilize the results in a strategic planning process planned for early 2019 in order to reaffirm our mission and vision, while also identifying our specific and crucial role in supporting food systems transformation.

A sample of Low-Income, Low-Access Census Tracts in Phoenix and the East Valley (often referred to as "Food Deserts"). There is an estimated 200,000 residents in the County who must travel more than a mile to get to the nearest supermarket or full service grocery store.

 Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Access Research Atlas.

Food Access in Maricopa county

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help prevent a number of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. Despite these overwhelming health benefits, most Americans (including Arizonans) aren't getting enough. Food choice is influenced by a number of factors including culture, income, education, and the availability and affordability of healthy foods where we live, learn, work, and play. Use the button below to explore the state of diet-related health, food access and food insecurity in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Many MarCo members are working to address these diet-related health and food access challenges. Here is a snapshot of what they do, where they work and some recommendations for the Coalition.

Agriculture in Central Arizona

We are pleased to share the results of our Contribution of Agriculture to the Maricopa and Gila River Indian Community Economies study conducted by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Most people do not realize the diversity of farms and agricultural production in the region or how influential it is to our local economy. Click on the button below or the image to the left to access the Full Report and Executive Summary.

Local Food Assets

Asset mapping is an important food assessment method and we are lucky to already have a well established one here in Arizona known as the Good Food Finder. Local First Arizona Foundation hosts this online directory and recently updated 567 existing listings and added 144 new local producer, distributor, retailer, and restaurant listings within the region! Click on the AZ Good Food Finder logo or button below to explore. This searchable database is a great resource for individuals and businesses interested in purchasing more local produce and value-added products, or for those hoping to get connected to an area Farmers Market, Community Supported Agriculture project (CSA), or Community Garden.

Community Food Networks 

If we understand a local or a "community" food system to be a collaborative effort to integrate the steps food takes from farm-to-fork in ways that reduce waste and enhance equity, sustainability and health, we have to see beyond the food system as nodes in a food supply chain. Instead, we need a better understanding of the relationships, networks, and the people who make it possible.

We partnered with Ken Meter and Megan Phillips Goldenberg of Crossroads Resource Center to provide us a snapshot of the current Community Food Network in the region including key strengths, gaps and opportunities through key stakeholder interviews. Click below for Study Highlights and the Full Report.

Our Neighborhood, Our Food: Community Food Conversations

MarCo Food Facilitators conducted Community Food Conversations in English and Spanish with residents in Tempe, Glendale and South Phoenix during Spring and Summer 2018. "Our Neighborhood, Our Food" Community Food Conversations are viewed as the beginning, or the enhancement of, long-term coalition community engagement and dialogue around food systems change. These initial sessions centered around individuals' experiences with food while focusing on assets, needs, ongoing engagement strategies, and the co-creation of solutions. We hope to release the full report by the end of 2018. Below are some highlights.

We learned that all participants were concerned about the quality of the food they eat. They want ripe, seasonal, organic produce. Community members are also eager for more opportunities to learn about nutrition, community resources, gardening, and how to cook.

Affordability is an issue for participants, especially when it came to being able to pay for the quality food they feel they deserve. Many residents did not feel that they had ample access to the same grocery stores that offer high quality foods found in more affluent areas, and many are willing to travel outside of their community to shop at these stores.

Finally, food symbolized so much more to participants than sustenance. Across community sites, participants spoke about food as being very important in terms of social connection. They felt that sharing food was a way to show love and address isolation. Residents gave many examples of existing opportunities, as well as an unmet need for food to build community.

Water, Land Use and Food Policy

Land, water and agriculture are closely linked in Arizona. From the Central Arizona Project and surface water from the Colorado, Gila and Salt Rivers, to irrigation districts and ground water from wells, the infrastructure and policy issues are complex. The video on the left discusses how pressures from residential development, drought, and climate change make for an uncertain future as we work to maintain or expand local food. We plan to release more on these issues and what it means for our work by Winter 2018-2019.

FACT is also partnering with the Policy Work Group to assess the existing food system policies and regulations of selected cities/towns in Maricopa County. By Winter 2018-2019 we hope to identify local and national best practices so that the Policy Work Group can develop regulation templates for municipalities interested in supporting a more equitable, healthy, sustainable and thriving food system in Maricopa County.

                                                                                                                                              Banner photo courtesy of Phoenix Public Market, Champion PR + Consulting