The Hunger Map

FOOD DESERTS are areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. There is an emphasis on "affordable" food as a metric, as locations with food priced at prohibitively high dollar values can easily be overlooked.

Out of Houston's population of 2.33 million people, nearly a fourth live in USDA designated food desert areas. These in turn have debilitating effects on both individual and community health, which lead to a high rise in avoidable health care costs.

In analyzing the data sets that we extracted from the Kinder Institute, the final metric we had for scoring the relative intensity of each food desert was through a Food Access Measure, which is found after incorporating both the population characteristic and store characteristic of a location. Key components include neighborhood-level measures of the distance to a store, the number of stores, availability of shelf space devoted to specific food items and square-footage of grocery retail.

What Houston is Doing Right Now

In 2011, as the White House started their efforts to combat food deserts nationally, Houston’s government also began to establish policies to improve the lack of food access in Houston and community leaders in Houston took action to fix their communities’ food insecurities. The government first established the Houston grocery access task which is made up of leaders from a variety of different sectors - economic, public health, civic. They meet up to discuss barriers to grocery store development and work to encourage more grocery investment in Houston. One of their first projects was the establishment Pyburn Grocery to serve South Union and its surrounding neighborhoods. The owner of Pyburn received $1.7 million for predevelopment, land acquisition, construction and equipment from the city, serving as a more accessible source of healthy food as originally more than half of the residents in south Houston lived more than a mile away from their nearest grocery store.

Additionally, Houston has also implemented Double Up, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in 2019. This program specifically aims to help SNAP recipients, allowing them to buy from farmers’ markets to get fresh goods. Double Up also enables them to bring home $40 worth of fresh produce for only $20.

Specific community and county solutions are seen in Third Ward and the 2020 implementation of Healthy Food Financing Initiative for Harris County. Third Ward has taken community action, building a community garden full of fresh and nutritious food options. The Nu Waters Co-op, run by Third Ward residents, has taken produce from community gardens, bringing healthy options to the neighborhood. Lastly, the 2020 implementation of Healthy Food Financing Initiative for Harris County, approved of $400 million in grants and loans to assist retailers to locate neighborhoods with a lack of access to fresh foods.