The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is adopting new technology to assist those in need and decrease hunger.
The FDACS has created a new digital map to help locate and determine which areas of Florida have the least amount of access to food and resources. Among other features, the map highlights diet-related deaths by area.
Erin Gillespie, press secretary of the Department of Agriculture, said the map, which took a year to complete, uses geographic information systems (GIS) similar to Google Maps.
Tami Gray, director of finance at Bread of the Mighty, a Gainesville food bank, said the community is not always aware of the services that food banks have to offer.
Bread of the Mighty, like other food banks, collects food and distributes it to food pantries serving Alachua, Dixie, Levy, Lafayette and Gilchrist counties. Gray said last year the food bank supplied 5 million pounds of food to those in need.
The map has options to look up the locations of farmers markets, low-performing schools, rural high-impact tracts and more. The map can also locate food deserts, which are urban areas where affordable food is limited.
Gray said the map is an asset to the community in general because it shows specifically where each food pantry is located. Because of the map, people will know where help is offered.
Gray said 23.5 percent of Alachua County residents live in poverty, with Dixie County being one of the poorest counties in the state.
“This new map is able to assist people in getting valuable information,” Gray said.
Another aspect of the map, Gillespie said, is to connect farmers to those in need of fresh food.
If a farmer wants to locate farmers markets in Gainesville, he or she can select farmers markets from “layers” and colored markers will appear. Clicking on a marker pulls up detailed information about the market. The same strategy can be used to locate food deserts in the state.
However, Gillespie said the map isn’t user-friendly for the average person. The map is intended for the use of state agencies, such as the Department of Children and Families.
Amy Van Scoik, a farmer from Hawthorne, said the map is not enough. She wants a system that can generate traffic for her business in the long run.
Van Scoik, co-owner of Frog Song Organics, said the best thing that can happen to farmers isn’t just a road map but something that can connect her with buyers directly.
“Unless a government program is going to call me up and say, ‘Here’s a buyer for your crops that you can sell to,’ it’s not going to help me,” she said.
Yet Gillespie still sees potential in the map.
She said the map is going to help in the long run because one in six Floridians have problems getting access to fresh food, and these people have a higher risk of diabetes.
“It will make Florida a healthier place to live in,” Gillespie said.