At an April meeting of the Fredericksburg Food Access Forum, people who deal with food in one form or another—giving it away at pantries, teaching people how to cook it or dealing with issues caused by the lack of it—looked at a map on the wall.
Elizabeth Borst, the forum director, and Jason Winner, a geographic information systems coordinator, were débuting a map that detailed food insecurity in Fredericksburg and Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.
Spots of beige and pale pink meant fewer people had trouble putting food on the table while blobs of darker colors indicated more empty cupboards. Another map showed the difference between the need for food in each area, and the programs in place the help. Once more, the darker the color, the more serious the shortage.
“You’ve got a sea of darker red in much” of the area, said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District. “That’s surprising to me. I guess I didn’t realize the extent.”
He was particularly surprised to find pockets of food insecurity—defined as the consistent lack of food to maintain a healthy, active life—in more well-to-do counties of Spotsylvania and Stafford. Throughout the region, about 31,000 people are considered food insecure, according to Feeding America.
“In general, I’m not sure food insecurity has gotten the amount of attention it deserves or the same level of attention as many other health issues,” he said later.
That will change if the forum folks have anything to do with it.
Borst, who often stays awake at night, thinking about how many people went to bed hungry, is a driving force in the local campaign to put food insecurity on the map. She also works to get food grown by local farmers into the hands of those who need it most.
The interactive map shows what’s being done currently and the shortfalls between where food is distributed and more is needed. It also provides detailed information about population, employment rates and poverty levels, down to tracts defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Borst hopes groups will see the food deserts and organize efforts to get more groceries to neighborhoods in need.
She believes a regional food council would beef up community efforts because it would bring more agencies and individuals to the table to share ideas, coordinate programs and learn from each other.
“There are a lot of small efforts, but when you put them all together, they turn into something pretty impressive,” she said. “We have to draw attention to the need and what’s out there.”