Survey Explores Healthy Food Access in Six Michigan Communities

Six Michigan communities have learned more about their residents’ access to healthy food using a new shared measurement survey.

Photo from the Battle Creek survey report.
Photo Credit: J.R. Reynolds, Good Food Battle Creek
Photo from the Battle Creek survey report. Photo Credit: J.R. Reynolds, Good Food Battle Creek

The Michigan Good Food Charter casts a specific vision for food access: a food system in which all Michiganders have access to food that is healthy, environmentally responsible, fairly produced, and affordable. Since 2010, communities across Michigan have been working toward making this vision reality. In one of the latest steps toward progress, six communities have used a set of shared survey questions to learn about what is working and where more attention is needed.

Organizations in three urban settings–Ypsilanti, Battle Creek, and Pontiac–used the Shared Measurement Healthy Food Access Survey to better understand food access in their communities. What is special about this survey is that each community used the same core questions, plus a few questions tailored to their interests. The core questions, developed by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and a group of advisory partners, asked about things like: how far people travel to buy food, where people buy food, and whether there is fresh produce available at that location. Using the same core questions is an exciting step because it means that results can be compared between different communities.

Asking a shared set of core questions across communities is part of the Michigan Good Food Charter Shared Measurement Project. Shared measurement is important to advancing the Michigan Good Food Charter because it helps communities equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to find out for themselves how well their efforts are working. The goal is to help local leaders inform and improve Michigan Good Food efforts, catalyze government support, leverage funding, democratize the power of information, and strengthen statewide partnerships and networks.

In addition to the shared core questions, some communities added custom questions of interest to them. For example, the Ypsilanti Healthy Food Access Survey included questions about food insecurity and pantry usage. Community-specific questions are important to include because they can help get information that may be key in one place but not another.

Food Gatherers, which conducted the Ypsilanti survey, is responding to the findings by increasing the visibility of their programs. Their report is available online at:

Good Food Battle Creek led the Healthy Food Access Survey in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Battle Creek. Their report highlights the lack of food retail options in the neighborhood and reveals opportunities to increase healthy food options at dollar stores, improve the bus system, and build on urban agriculture assets in the community. The Battle Creek report is available online. The results of the Pontiac survey, which was led by Oakland University, have not yet been published.

This spring, three rural counties are using the Healthy Food Access Survey with their own customizations. These counties are Antrim, Benzie, and Oscoda Counties. The Antrim and Benzie surveys, coordinated by the Food and Farming Network of Northwestern Michigan, are emphasizing interest in and access to locally-grown foods. In Oscoda County, District Health Department No. 2 is leading the survey and including a custom focus on healthy diets.  Their reports are expected in late 2018.

The Healthy Food Access Survey is just one piece of the shared measurement strategy. Shared measurement is also helping to:

  • track institutional sourcing of food grown or produced in Michigan,
  • document impacts of farmers markets through the Michigan Farmers Market Association’s Farmers Market Metrics Portal,
  • provide tools and trainings like a primer and webinar on assessing economic impact of local food systems,
  • and explore data on racial equity in the food system.

To learn more about Michigan Good Food Shared Measurement, visit:

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