The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

A Social Entrepreneurial Approach to Food Insecurity and Access: Oasis Food Ecosystem

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 6:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
John M. Wallace, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Stephanie Boddie, PhD, Assistant Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Background and Purpose

Approximately 50 million Americans are food insecure (USDA Economic Research Service, 2012). Without a local supermarket, 23.5 million Americans live in communities considered a food desert or a product of “food redlining” (Treuhaft & Karpyn, 2010; USDA Economic Research Service, 2009). Food inaccessibility creates barriers to healthy eating, particularly for children, seniors and families relying on public transportation. Food inaccessibility may also lead to hunger, malnutrition and chronic diseases such as diabetes, certain types of cancers, and cardiovascular disease (Hampton, 2007).  Available food from convenience stores typically provides unhealthy food options like processed foods and canned fruits and vegetables. Using a social entrepreneurial approach, these researchers design an Oasis Food Ecosystem to address the food needs of residents in one low-income, urban, predominately African-American neighborhood.


To design the food ecosystem, we build upon recommendations proposed for food access, food insecurity and food system solutions in over 15 cities including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia and Portland. We consider the following priorities as we develop our conceptual framework for this neighborhood-based initiative: 1) decreasing the prevalence of obesity and health related diseases, 2) increasing access to affordable and nutritious foods, 4) increasing food security through government supported SNAP and meal programs as well as longer term workforce and business development strategies and 5) increasing local food procurement and entrepreneurship.

To design a responsive food ecosystem that fits the market opportunities and social needs of the local community, we also use existing data to accurately gauge food access and food insecurity of local residents as well as the current health of the neighborhood and its residents (U.S. Census, 2010; A+ Schools, 2011; Rand, 2012).


Much like Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus (2010), we design a plan to help low-income families meet a basic need and remove the associated stigma through sustainable, market-based solutions. The proposed market-based solutions include a storefront market, mobile market, community kitchen, community café, kitchen incubator, culinary arts training, school/afterschool meal programs and nutrition center. We also expand the existing food ecosystem model by envisioning a healthy village for children.  

Conclusions and Implications

We consider the short-term to long-term impacts of this demonstration project on residents’ food access and insecurity as well as food choices, health and economic outcomes. Ultimately, this project seeks to build a comprehensive, collaborative food ecosystem to nourish, educate, employ and heal community residents and promote community health and revitalization.