March 16 2011 12:00 AM

In the suburbs, as research and a new map by MSU faculty suggests

In the suburbs, as research and a new map by MSU faculty suggests

For those who wonder if Lansing really is a “food desert,” two Michigan State University professors have something to show you.

Phil Howard, a professor in the Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies Department, and Kirk Goldsberry, a geography professor, used GIS (geographic information systems) technology to map where fresh produce is at in greater Lansing. Results show that supermarkets have moved to the suburbs, thus making access to fresh produce more difficult without a car.

Howard said that less than 4 percent of the population lives within a 10-minute walk of a supermarket, but more than 80 percent live within a 10-minute drive. Based on Census data, Howard said about 20 percent of people in Lansing don’t have cars. In other words, car owners can overcome food accessibility obstacles much more easily than pedestrians.

Howard said some things not included in the research were the Lansing City Market, mapping bus routes to fresh produce and farmers markets open during the growing season. However, it also does not account for five L and L stores that closed recently.

“This area is changing in both positive and negative ways. L and L has closed a few stores, that’s harder on those people (who lived close to them),” Howard said. “On the other hand, farmers markets continue.”

Howard said he doesn’t like the term “food desert” because it implies there is no food in the area. “It’s a lot more complicated than that,” he said.

He said there is no silver bullet for solving food accessibility problems for those without cars. It will come with a combination of better public transportation, more stores selling fresh produce and a continued rise in smaller, community-based food options. Joan Nelson, director of the Allen Neighborhood Center, said the map does not account for urban and community gardens and farmers markets. The neighborhood center launched the Allen Street Farmers Market in 2004 and is now one of 18 farmers markets in Ingham County, she said.

While she says Howard’s and Goldsberry’s work is an important launching point to look at food access issues, improvements are already afoot in Lansing. “The food movement in this community has exploded,” Nelson said.

Howard said he hopes the MSU project can expand by looking at other urban areas of Michigan.

“I suspect it will be a similar story,” he said.

For a high resolution version of the Pedestrian Produce Access map, visit