Ecocity Insights

IEFS Indicators: Healthy and Accessible Food

Written by Jennie Moore

Uneven access to healthy and nutritious food is a global phenomenon – witness: many North Americans’ struggle with obesity while many Africans’ starve. Food often comprises the largest component of a city’s ecological footprint (COV 2011), and agriculture contributes 10-12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (FAO 2009). Recent studies indicate that the type of food (e.g. meat) and the way it is processed (e.g. organic) have a greater environmental impact than the overall distance food travels (i.e. food miles) and the total amount consumed (Webber and Mathews 2008).
The IEFS calls for nutritious food that is accessible and affordable to all residents and is grown, manufactured and distributed by processes which maintain the healthy function of ecosystems and do not exacerbate climate change. Food consumed is primarily grown within the local bioregion.

Ecocities enable access to healthy and nutritious food through zoning of land dedicated to agricultural production both within the city and at its periphery. This could include greenbelts and areas adjacent to natural parks, formation of contiguous open space and green corridors, community gardens, home-based agriculture, street-side gardens, etc. Community-based programs such as fruit-tree harvest and crop-sharing initiatives further enable people to access the bounty of urban agriculture. Food hubs and farmers markets can provide the means for food producers to access local markets directly. More broadly based agriculture activity, including farms and orchards that surround the city can enable access to bio-regionally based food supplies as well. Building rooftops and terraces can also be used for local food production, including raising small animals such as chickens and rabbits. Ground-oriented buildings and sheds, including court-yards, and even below-grade structures such as cisterns can be used for local farming including aquaculture (Todd and Todd 1994).

Although density can produce a more efficient pattern of living through, for example, access by proximity to services, it also concentrates demand. In the case of food, access to retail venues is increased, but careful design is required to ensure that access to the means of food production is not eliminated. Where demand for food by an urban population exceeds the capacity of the local bioregion, the importance of policies that shape demand for organic and fairly traded foods become increasingly important. The success of organic food retailers demonstrates that many people in Western society are willing to pay a premium for ethically and organically produced food. Still many others find these types of products too expensive to purchase on a daily basis.

Some cities are beginning to map food access and finding that parts of the city are virtual nutrition deserts. Understanding the population’s nutritional needs and planning for access to healthy and nutritious food is an important strategy that can help communities move toward achieving this important IEFS principle.

COV (City of Vancouver). 2011. Talk Green Lighter Footprint , part of the Greenest City initiative (
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). 2009. Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture: Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Sustainable Farming Systems ( )
Todd, Nancy Jack and John Todd. 1994. From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design. Berkeley Cal: North Atlantic Books.
Webber, Christopher and H. Scott Mathews. 2008. “Food-miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States,” Environment, Science, and Technology, Vol. 42, Issue 10, pp. 3508-3513.


British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative

About the author

Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore is Director, Institute Sustainability at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Dr. Moore has extensive experience in the realm of ecological sustainability and urban systems including climate change and energy management, green buildings and eco-industrial networking. Prior to joining BCIT she worked for over a decade at Metro Vancouver as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Her research explores the potential for Vancouver to achieve one-planet living. Jennie is a senior associate of the One Earth Initiative and a core advisor to the International Ecocity Framework and Standards.


  • well said. Planning for food takes so much more than smooth highways and space for big box stores; in my mind, the main role of what is often called “urban agriculture” is to make visible what has been out of sight for far too long- the production of food. Just as the farmers markets have re-made mostly rural farmers and harvesters honored stewards of the regional ecological foodprint, fishers and foragers also remind us that not everything can be planed and zoned for food. I work with local and regional food systems across North America to build their own capacity which means helping those entities find ways to add relevancy about food to every conversation happening and to measure success across many impacts-not just economic, but ecological, social and human( to start); this is the work we are beginning on the Farmers Market Metrics project housed at Farmers Market Coalition and supported by various partners. We have to

    • Nice thoughts! Seems like your comment got cut off…did you have anything else to stay? Tell us more about your Farmers Market Metric project!

      • Thanks for noticing that. We have three pilots in 2015 to test out different parts of evaluation: refining the metrics, working with stakeholders, devising sensible data collection strategies for grassroots organizers and with some boilerplate analysis create some report templates that are appealing to markets. We began with a info-graphic report prototype pilot to test out it’s usability, have a small two-year research project pilot at nine markets that is led by University of Wisconsin-Madison and we are also working on a online curriculum for training grassroots markets in data collection and use. The main idea is to create sharable metrics for all food systems while still allowing for unique stories to be told.

  • For the pilot stage, the team gathered metrics from those tools already used to measure markets and food systems and from known reports, which means we began with over 100 metrics possible just by doing a quick inventory! Those metrics were grouped into their “impacts” or “benefit” or “capital”, since the Farmers Market Coalition promotes markets as entities that offer multiple benefits to multiple community members (vendors, shoppers, visitors, neighbors), The benefits (or how current market audiences/stakeholders evaluate markets) is how economic, ecological, social and human (became) the main groups.

    FYI-Social (building trust) and human (adding skills, sharing knowledge) are used as proxies for measuring personal behavior change as open-air markets (which most farmers markets are in the US) cannot easily measure consumption patterns or health changes.
    The metrics chosen from the larger group for the nine pilots to choose from ended up being 38 in number. It was important that those chosen could be operationalized into good data collection systems for markets to collect themselves as that is a key point of UW’s research. That season of data collection begins this spring at nine markets and will be led by University of Wisconsin’s Dr. Morales. All of the resources and findings will be available at the end of the pilot in 2016 and some are already available on Farmers Market Coalition’s site. Ultimately, this will become a dashboard on FMC’s site and will be available for all markets to use to collect and share data.