mApples: Mapping the neighbourhood for fresh food

Vancouver – Can you buy fresh produce within a five-minute walk from your home? As part of its Greenest City initiative, Vancouver is striving to increase city and neighbourhood food assets by a minimum of 50 percent by 2020.

To support this goal, the City wants to ensure that residents of Vancouver have access to healthy food as measured by the “percentage of residents who live within 400m of a basket of healthy produce.” That’s what the CityStudio research team of Samantha Lefort, Jason Mertz, and Jordan Manning, set out to investigate.  CityStudio is a collaboration between SFU, UBC, Emily Carr, BCIT, Langara College & Vancouver Community College.

The team chose the apple as an indicator species for fresh produce in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant, because where you find apples you usually find other fresh produce. It’s an iconic BC fruit available virtually year-round.

Using smartphones, the team walked Mount Pleasant going into grocery and convenience stores looking for apples. They took pictures and using a photo-sharing mobile phone app from local company, foodtree, they plotted the location of where apples are currently being sold in Mt. Pleasant, producing a map, called mApples.

Overlaying the results with a city map turned up interesting results:

  • Food deserts located in areas where housing was predominant rather than mixed commercial/residential zoning.
  • Many of the apples were not local, some coming from as far away as China, despite it being a major crop in BC.  Some imported apples were sold within blocks of a farmers market selling BC grown produce. This provides a business opportunity for local growers if they can be connected with local stores.
  • Sixteen community gardens, which could be used to provide fresh produce to residents.
  • Visual data was a big improvement over a map.
  • App is more user friendly as residents can easily pick out the closest or most convenient location.

The results showed Vancouver’s goal is not only achievable but in many parts of the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood that was studied, it’s already been achieved.