Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

FASH: Goal 7

Healthy and locally produced food will be more accessible through better public transportation and food infrastructure.

In many areas of Massachusetts, transportation-related barriers make it difficult or impractical for people to regularly obtain healthy food. Often in these cases, there are simply not enough stores with healthy food nearby. Some cities, including Boston, Springfield, and Brockton have as much as 30 percent fewer supermarkets per capita compared to the national average. In addition, existing supermarkets are unevenly distributed, with lower-income communities having disproportionately less access to them. This shortage means that residents, particularly those in lower-income communities, must travel out of their neighborhoods to reach the nearest store that sells fresh produce and other foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet.[1]

Reliable transportation is essential for accessing sources of healthy food. Yet in some urban areas, one-third or more of residents do not own or have access to a car, making public transit critical for accessing healthy food at grocery stores. Yet in some areas, transit service ends as early as 6:30 p.m., and the number of grocery bags allowed on buses is typically limited to two or three. Further, public transportation is not available in many rural areas.

In addition, as the number of senior citizens continues to grow, there are more people with mobility limitations. More than one in ten residents report having one or more disabilities.[2]

Farmers markets are an important source of healthy food, and much of it is locally produced. Yet seasonal market operations and limited hours often reduce the ability of many people without a car to patronize farmers markets.

Recommendation 7.1: Support municipal and regional transportation planning efforts to more fully understand and identify related access barriers and opportunities to make it easier for all residents to obtain healthy food regularly.

Action 7.1.1: Support the creation and use of community “scorecards” to assess the accessibility of healthy and local food within one or more municipalities or region.

Action 7.1.2: Work with Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the staff of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and regional planning agencies in conjunction with municipalities to conduct gap analyses that focus on the availability of healthy food, especially among people who experience health disparities related to nutrition or are food insecure, especially seniors and people with disabilities. The purpose of these analyses is to better understand specific challenges and more adequately plan responsive local transportation programs and related efforts that improve healthy food access. Support partnership with existing initiatives like Transportation for Massachusetts to identify ways to address challenges.

Action 7.1.3: Continue to support and expand Mass in Motion and similar municipal programs like food policy councils, and leverage existing Mass in Motion initiatives toward a “Health in All Policies” model that integrates health-related considerations into decision-making and planning throughout municipal and State agencies.

Recommendation 7.2: Support regional measures to enhance access to healthy food.

Action 7.2.1: Encourage MPOs and their Joint Committees on Transportation to add criteria for accessibility to healthy and local foods to project evaluations for regional transportation plans and to the annual scoring of projects for inclusion and prioritization in the regional and State Transportation Improvement Program.

Action 7.2.2: Engage and leverage regional economic coordinating councils to advance healthy food accessibility opportunities in their plans and support the implementation of solutions with regional stakeholders.

Action 7.2.3: Develop more regional transportation options in rural areas to help improve access to grocery stores for people who live who live long distances from grocery stores, especially seniors, and those with disabilities.

Recommendation 7.4: Support innovative retail outlet strategies that enhance access to healthy food for at-risk residents.

Action 7.4.1: Support mobile farmers markets and mobile grocery markets through local food policy councils, anchor institutions, nonprofits, and agency resources. Encourage partnerships with local transit authorities, farms, distributors, farmers markets, and other transportation providers.

Action 7.4.2: Work with major employers, cooperative food markets, nonprofits, local food policy councils, and others to establish CSA deliveries at workplaces, as well as community centers, churches, and other similar locations.

Action 7.4.3: Evaluate prior “Healthy Bodega” and “Healthy Corner Store” programs. Produce recommendations, and expand and improve implementation.

Action 7.4.4: Increase the availability and affordability of CSA memberships among low-income residents through such innovative measures as the statewide Healthy Incentives Program, which will allow monthly CSA share payments from SNAP debit cards. Increase options for CSA pickup locations, such as workplaces, community centers, and churches that are more convenient to those without cars or limited transportation options.

Recommendation 7.5: Review existing policies and planning criteria to improve accessibility for public transportation users, particularly the food accessibility needs of people with mobility limitations.

Action 7.5.1: In any expansions of SNAP, WIC, or senior meals programs, actions should be taken to address the transportation, mobility, and ADA compliance needs of people with disabilities for their entire shopping trip, including the transporting of groceries, from door to point-of-sale.

Action 7.5.2: Increase the number of shopping bags that are allowed to be carried on public transit authority buses and trains. Increase the capacity of transit vehicles to carry more shopping bags safely.

Action 7.5.3: Work with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the State’s regional transit authorities, and Metropolitan Planning Organizations to provide more direct and/or frequent bus routes to locations with better access to grocery stores and healthy food outlets.

Action 7.5.4: Expand Meals on Wheels to operate on weekends.

[1] Manon, Miriam, Caroline Harries, and David Treering. (2010). Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Massachusetts. Accessed November 2015 from

[2] US Census. (2009-2014). American Community Survey five year estimates.

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Massachusetts Food System Collaborative