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U.S. Cities Could Look to Baltimore as Model for Improving Access to Quality Foods

Jul 02, 2014

View Publication  |  Research Brief

Baltimore, Maryland’s food policy program could serve as a model for U.S. cities working to address access to healthy foods, according to a new case study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). The researchers found that within several years of launching a city-wide food policy initiative, the city had successfully positioned itself as a leader in food policy by bringing together government, non-profit and private sector leaders to address food system issues. The initiative included hiring a city food-policy director and creating a food policy task force. The study appears in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

“Our experience in Baltimore found that a fusion of existing activities and strategies could coalesce around the vision that those working to improve food access can achieve better results by working together. There is a perception that government agencies should be the driving force in addressing community food issues and this is simply not the case,” said Anne Palmer, MAIA, senior author of the paper and a program director with the CLF. “Good policy at the local level needs to include the stakeholders affected by and working on these issues.  Baltimore’s task force identified the need, used available research and best practices to drive and inform action, and acted expeditiously with a focus on sustainability.”

With approximately 620,000 residents, Baltimore is a midsized city with 55 unique neighborhoods. Food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to adequate foods, affects nearly 14 percent of city households. Palmer and colleagues conducted a participant-observer case study to examine how the city successfully developed an infrastructure to address inequity in healthy food access. Researchers traced the founding of the food policy task force, the hiring of one of the country’s first food policy directors, and the development of one of the country’s largest food policy programs.

“When the Baltimore City created a food policy director position, there were only a handful of similar positions across the country, and each of these had different mandates,” said Palmer. “While each community is unique and there is no straightforward formula for addressing public food policy, the Baltimore experience is illustrative of what can happen when utilizing a strategic approach in a progressive environment.”

“Collaboration Meets Opportunity: The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative,” was written by Raychel Santo, Rachel Yong and Anne Palmer.

The research was supported by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future with funding from the Grace Communications Foundation. The authors have had past and/or present working relationships with the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative.

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future media contact: Natalie Wood-Wright at 443-824-1371 or

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health media contact: Stephanie Desmon at 410-955-7619 or