Using the USDA’s New U.S. Food Environment Atlas: Opportunities for Farmers Market Supporters

      Posted On: February 16, 2010

Launched last week, the USDA’s new U.S. Food Environment Atlas graphically presents ninety food-related indicators—ranging from access to grocery stores to farmers markets per capita to gallons of soft drinks consumed at home—on an interactive, color-coded map of the United States.

Although users of the atlas have the option of viewing all of these indicators for a selected county in plain text, the Atlas offers many exciting advanced features for presenting this data in visually creative ways. For example, users can create maps showing the variation of a single indicator across a selected region, such as the differences in child obesity rates in Texas. They can also use the advanced query tool to identify counties that share the same degree of multiple indicators; for instance, counties where there are many fast food restaurants per capita but few farmers markets.

The Atlas and farmers markets are a natural pair—indeed, Michelle Obama links to both the Atlas and the Farmers Market Coalition website on the new Let’s Move! online campaign against childhood obesity. Supporters of farmers markets and local food systems could take advantage of the tools offered by the Atlas to identify market opportunities, secure community support, leverage financial resources, and more. Here are some examples of how Farmers Market Coalition members might consider using the Atlas:

1. An aspiring market manager looking for an ideal location to start a market in Virginia could use the atlas to find areas in his state (highlighted in blue) with high per capita vegetable production but few grocery stores or markets per capita, indicating that there is both the local supply and community demand needed to support a new market.

2. A farmer in Texas could use the atlas to learn about food prices, food purchasing habits, and income levels (blue and purple) in her Dallas region, enabling her to make more informed decisions about direct marketing outlets and product pricing.

3. A regional farmers market organization in Kentucky could use the Atlas to create a local map showing that many Kentucky farmers markets are located in areas (highlighted in blue) where over 6% of households are too far away from their nearest grocery stores to travel to them (medium and dark green). The map could be sent to funders to demonstrate that Kentucky markets provide much-needed food access.

4. A farmers market in the San Francisco Bay Area unsure of whether installing EBT terminals should be a priority could use the atlas to look at the SNAP participation rate, total value of SNAP benefits (purple), and number of SNAP and WIC authorized stores within its community.

The information used in the Atlas was compiled from the data collections of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, the National Farm-to-School Network, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Since the Atlas will be updated as new information becomes available, farmers markets should update their listing in the AMS directory this spring to ensure accurate representation in the Atlas.

Access the Atlas at Learn more about Michelle Obama’s campaign against child obesity at