LEWISTON — A kilometer’s distance between a person and their food supply is a pretty good signal that they’re doing all right, according to Kirsten Walter, director of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center.

“But when you think about it, a kilometer is very different if you are able-bodied or have a vehicle,” Walter said Friday. “If you are trying to walk there with your kids or if the bus doesn’t run when you are off work or if it’s snowing and the sidewalks are not plowed, that kilometer is a lot longer.”

That’s the situation for much of downtown Lewiston: the area is surrounded by rural farms and fresh food, but little of that makes it into the downtown area. The biggest nearby supermarkets are outside of walking distance and residents need a car or regular bus service to get there.

And the smaller markets that do serve the downtown may lack in fresh, healthy food and are likely to be 40 percent more expensive.

Those are the findings of a new community food assessment report released by the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn. The group was created by St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, Healthy Androscoggin, the Downtown Education Collaborative, Bates College and the Harward Center to look at the Twin Cities food system. The group hosted a news conference in the Nutrition Center’s Bates Street headquarters Friday morning.

Mark Winne, a New Mexico-based writer and speaker on the topic of food policies and food insecurity, applauded the local group for performing the study.

“A food system — we use that term a lot — but it’s just the ways we get food,” he said. “It’s the ways we grow food and the way food is funded, such as through the federal government which alone has 15 separate food or nutrition programs. How do we make all of those work as well as possible for people, particularly needy people, elderly people and the disabled? That’s what we’re looking at.”

The assessment is based on data from telephone surveys conducted by calling 300 Lewiston households concerning their access to food and the extent of hunger in the city. Those households were picked based on their location in demographically at-risk areas of the city.

That data was combined with surveys of 64 stores that sell food in Lewiston concerning what types of food they sell — fresh versus prepackaged food, for example — and food prices; a map of fast food restaurants; a survey of emergency food providers such as soup kitchens and food banks; government and community programs; and focus groups, consumer surveys and interviews.

“The data is really important, and we want to bring it all together in one place,” Walter said. “But the data is not the whole story of what is happening and often the numbers can be misleading.”

One problem is access to inexpensive food. The assessment found prices rose as you approached the downtown.

Food choice is another concern.

“Out of 64 places that you can go to buy food to prepare or take home, only seven had a diverse offering of healthy foods,” she said. “That informs what food access looks like.”

Steve Johndro, executive director at Healthy Androscoggin, said the study will help guide his group’s decisions.

“In my opinion, the greatest benefit of this (assessment) is that the information it contains is specific to our community,” he said. “That’s something we have not had ever before. It’s usually something on a county level or on a district. This gives us something to look at and plan going forward into the future.”

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To download a PDF copy of the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn’s Community Food Assessment for 2014, visit www.goodfood4la.org.

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