A new UConn study released Wednesday ranks all of the state's towns on their "food security:" whether there is easy access to a variety of healthy foods and whether residents are sufficiently taking part in food assistance programs.
"Food security," as defined by the study, is measured by a population's access to enough healthy food for an active and healthy life. It factors in economics, easy access to retailers and on the percentage of eligible residents receiving food assistance.
The study was written by UConn agriculture doctoral candidate Adam Rabinowitz and UConn Cooperative Extension Service food policy educator Jiff Martin.
"What we're hoping is that this will help stimulate some reflection on the part of the towns and help them look inwardly about what they want to do to improve food security in their towns," Martin said.
The study updates one done more than five years ago at UConn that had a much more narrow focus on the economic factors determining food security, she said. That study did not include the new study's research on retail and state programs.
UConn researchers are hoping the data can help local officials, including town planners, school administrators, and parks and recreation leaders, figure out ways to improve access to healthy food choices.
"There are a lot of people who have a say or influence that could alter a community's food security," Martin said. "They can use the study to show how well a town is meeting the needs of a person who is food insecure."
Connecticut Food Policy Council Chairman John Frassinelli, who is also the state director of the WIC program that provides food assistance for women, infants and children, said the results show that food security is affected by proximity to food resources in addition to economics.
"The nice thing about this report is it really provides town-level data as opposed to statewide numbers," Frassinelli said. "People in those towns can work together to use this information to inform a community-level strategy."
He said the Food Policy Council will be meeting with local food councils over the next year to help them make decisions about improving access to healthy foods. He said many rural towns, especially, may need assistance finding ways to increase options for residents.
"In New Haven, for example, there is a high need, but they do a really good job of connecting people with the resources they need," Frassinelli said. "It's not just about access to food — we're interested in access to healthy food."
Hartford residents interviewed Tuesday said getting enough healthy food can sometimes be a problem.
"You have to go to the different supermarkets, and if you don't have a car, you are limited on the things you can buy," said William Molina, who lives in the South End. He said he has to take two buses to get to a supermarket in West Hartford because neighborhood stores are often too expensive.
"All the stores that sell healthy food are in the suburbs," Molina said. "There isn't a supermarket, per se, in Hartford."
Ray Lettieri, who lives in Newington but until recently ate at Hartford shelters and soup kitchens, said there are many groups offering food resources to people in need. Almost anyone can use those resources to find a meal, he said, but getting a consistently healthy diet can be difficult.
"The quality of food is good, but you're not going to get all of your food groups," Lettieri said. "If you're paying for it, it's all right, but if you're not, you have to go find food."
Three years ago, Foodshare, the Chrysalis Center and the Junior League of Hartford started a pilot food pantry program called Freshplace that offers case management services. The program was intended to combat the causes of food insecurity. Foodshare CEO Gloria McAdam said Freshplace, in the Upper Albany neighborhood of Hartford, has shown some "really promising results."
"Freshplace is a model for how we can better approach the food insecurity issue in our community," McAdam said.
Connecticut's most urban cities and towns ranked among the most at-risk to be food insecure, according to the study. Hartford, New Haven, New Britain, Bridgeport, Windham, Waterbury, New London, East Hartford, North Canaan and Norwich were the top 10.
The least at-risk towns are Weston, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton and Easton.
The most rural towns were the least likely to have available retail options for residents to buy healthy food. Union, Sharon, Cornwall, Salisbury, Eastford, Norfolk, East Haddam, Sterling, Woodstock and Thompson had the least amount of options.
By contrast, some of the most urban places have the best available retail choices, according to the study. East Hartford ranked first, followed by Manchester, Bridgeport, West Haven, Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, Milford, Stratford and Ridgefield.
The cities and towns with the highest percentage of residents participating in food assistance programs and public transportation are New Haven, Hartford, New Britain, Waterbury, New London, Norwich, Bridgeport, Ansonia, Windham and Meriden. The towns with the lowest percentage are Easton, Union, Weston, Bethany and Hartland.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at