Increasing Access to Fresh Food in Rural Arkansas

  • Author: William Reckley
  • Date: April 4, 2023

As a part of the 2022 Community Mobility Design Challenge, a community in the Mississippi Delta region is looking to increase access to an innovative food distribution point. NCMM recently facilitated two workshops in Helena – West Helena, Arkansas.

Phillips County is located along Arkansas’ eastern border in the heart of the Mississippi Delta region. The area is known for its fertile soil and agricultural heritage. Reaching its peak in middle twentieth century as an important trading port on the Mississippi, the population in Phillips County has nearly halved since, exacerbating many of the issues facing much of rural America.

Arkansas workshop participants writing on small sticky notes on the front wall of the room.

One of those issues, access to fresh food, is critical for community members’ health. For many in Phillips County, the grocery store can be a 30 mile or more drive. Couple this with any additional transportation barrier, and the act of grocery shopping many of us take for granted quickly becomes unobtainable.

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension service recognized this through their extensive work in the region. The team at the Cooperative Extension Service began to see that a lack of access to healthy food was hampering efforts to reduce obesity in the community. Working with local partners in the County, the team was able to set up a mobile food pantry that travels to different parts of the county for each distribution. Coined “the DropOff,” the mobile food pantry was successful in bringing food closer to the people who need it, but there were still some residents who couldn’t get to the food.

To try and fill this remaining gap, the team applied for and received a planning grant through NCMM’s Community Mobility Design Challenge in October 2022. Asking “how might our community work to improve access to a mobile, healthy food drop-off for residents of Phillips County who face transportation barriers,” the team got to work by interviewing community members to better understand their needs. After collecting as much data from the community as the team could, they were then ready to start designing their solution.

Design Criteria To be successful, our solution would… provide transportation that people perceive is fairly priced and as fitting within their budget be perceived by users to have minimal or no barriers to being used be provided in a way that provides for socialization and resource-sharing, to the extent wanted by users start at a manageable level so that it can be sustained and built upon, thus building trust beyond the short-term utilize the existing local network organizations doing work in Phillips Co to ensure local ownership of the project leverage the communities that people have come to trust, however that "community" is defined by the user be perceived as providing convenient quick access to food when people want it. provide access to food distributed on a predictable, consistent schedule that they can trust and plan around

Using the Human-Centered Design Process, NCMM and the team hosted two workshops in the community to brainstorm and design some solutions. With a room full of community members, the team sifted through all of the data. An important aspect of the planning process is ensuring any design meets the core needs of the community in which it will be implemented. Using all of the data, the team devised Design Criteria that any solution must meet.

On the second day, the group turned to building their solutions. Using the Design Criteria as a guide, the team was guided through multiple activities to devise solutions. The goal was to make as many different solutions as possible, and then start to pare down the ideas to what made sense from there. The team used building blocks, or small features, to come up with large solutions. At the end of the day, everyone in the room ranked their top three solutions to move forward with. The team is now refining the concepts and will pitch their preferred alternative in late April!


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