Data Tool Supports Urban Harvest’s Mobile Market During Covid-19

Collaborative Data Project Between Urban Harvest and The Kinder Institute in Houston, Texas

Brings Healthier Food Choices Closer to Communities in Most Need during Covid-19.

Urban Harvest’s new Mobile Market was launched in August of 2020 as a resource to bring affordable healthy food choices and community benefits enrollment (such as WIC, TANF or SNAP) closer to individuals and families located in neighborhoods with low access to fresh, affordable food in Houston, Texas. In order to maximize the impact of its programming, the Mobile Market visits open and public spaces located nearby farmers markets and farm stands where SNAP shoppers can receive 50% discount on fruits and vegetables using the Double Up Houston program from Urban Harvest. Allowing SNAP shoppers to bring home up to $60 worth of fresh, nutritious food for just half the price, local farmers gain new customers, and more food dollars stay in the Houston economy.

In June 2020, Urban Harvest received a grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to partner with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research’s Houston Community Data Connection (HCDC) program and co-design a data tool to support an evidence-based strategy for the Mobile Market. As part of this project, Kinder HCDC led a series of exploratory meetings and brainstorming sessions, and Urban Harvest hosted two in-depth focus group sessions (in Spanish and English) with SNAP beneficiaries located in Houston, Texas. Each focus group collected valuable community feedback and information about current grocery shopping habits, culture, and food preferences of SNAP shoppers in Houston. The Houston Food Bank and El Centro del Corazon supported the effort by helping to recruit participants for each focus group session.

In October 2020, the project team used findings from each meeting and focus group session to define the indicators included in the data decision support tool. The tool, built in ArcGIS[1], encompasses three main sets of data that, when compiled together, show the interplay between: Urban Harvest’s local infrastructure (including a network of 140 community gardens, farmers markets, Double Up Sites, school partners, etc.); the socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhoods at a CTA level[2]; and other key local infrastructure for the mobile market like community centers, schools, health clinics, churches, and grocery stores of varying sizes.

“As local data intermediaries, we are excited to partner with the Urban Harvest and use data to illuminate health challenges and opportunities,” said Jie Wu, director of research management and Houston Community Data Connections at the Kinder Institute. “This project will also help to build capacity in Houston’s nonprofits which is part of our mission.”

This data tool provides Urban Harvest with very vital information as it approaches new partnerships and directs its Mobile Market to underserved communities during these unprecedented times. “Our collaboration with the Kinder Institute is allowing the Urban Harvest’s Mobile Market to go where people need it most, increasing access and affordability to healthy food choices in hard-to-reach, low-income, low-access areas. The data tool confirms our efforts are creating a sustainable impact, reflecting the needs of the communities we serve,” said Urban Harvest Executive Director Janna Roberson.

Urban Harvest is taking essential steps to become a non-profit that actively uses data to learn more about the communities we serve and their ongoing needs. This project has been an opportunity for our team to visualize potential locations for the Mobile Market during the current pandemic while building capacity for future projects involving the use of data and geographical analysis.

[1]   ArcGIS is an online mapping platform that allows geographic visualization and analysis:

[2]   The community tabulation areas (CTAs) developed by the Kinder Institute are designed to serve as approximations of neighborhoods, based specifically on census geographic boundaries, to facilitate the aggregation of census data to geographies larger than census tracts, but smaller than counties.