Esri cartography product engineer Jim Herries has mapped people's proximity to food sources since March, and users can view maps at Esri's ArcGIS website.
"(Esri founder) Jack (Dangermond) asked me and some others to look at food deserts," said Herries, referring to urban areas with little to no access to nutritious foods. "It's really more about access to food, and that isn't necessarily something you think about."
Most Redlanders live within a 10-minute drive or a mile walk to a grocery store, according to maps.
The dots on maps translate into something, Herries said.
"We're trying to get policy-makers and others to think beyond those dots, like what am I not seeing?" he said.
Not everyone has access to a car, he said.
"You pick up whatever you can carry, try with two kids in tow, and try crossing a four-lane street like Redlands Boulevard," he said.
There are several food pantries for the needy, he said, but how do people get there?
Herries and others at Esri are hoping to contribute solid data to such questions and help debates be "quantitative" rather than emotional and anecdotal, Esri commercial solutions director Simon Thompson said.
"The whole strategy here is define one level of food access at a time," Herries said.
Levels can include farmers markets and other local sources
"The things that's really prevalent is consumer awareness about wanting this kind of thing," said Lee Burton, a chef who works with local farmers and organizations like the Redlands Conservancy.
"Everyone is starting to consider where is food coming from. You can just feel it when you go to the farmers market, the grocery store," he said.
Farmers markets in recent history have served more of a higher-income population, Inland Orange Conservancy founder Bob Knight said.
The conservancy addresses the access challenge by using places like urban coffee shops as distribution points and gives leftover citrus shares to Inland Harvest, a nonprofit that distributes donated food to shelters and community food programs.
"So instead of bananas from Ecuador, it's oranges from Riverside and Redlands," Knight said. "That's the real challenge ... getting these fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved communities."
The term "food desert" can have a negative connotation and trigger emotion, Herries and Thompson said.
But if people are given hard data like that found in the Esri maps, they are less likely to begin a burgers-vs.-salads debate, Thompson said.
"Part of this is to say, well, we can't change behavior through enforcement, what we can do is educate and engineer," he said. "I can be aware of choices and influence the community."
Redlands is ready for two farmers markets, Burton said, and there is more opportunity in Redlands for local growers, Thompson said.
"Around the community we have lots and lots of suppliers who can get involved in farmers markets, and that benefits them economically," Thompson said.
Esri has created a starting point with Internet maps anyone can view, Herries said.
"The thing that makes Esri so interesting is it gives you a meaningful way to see data," Burton said.
The Internet has helped people like restaurant owner Carole Inman, who runs Kool Kactus Cafe in Loma Linda. People follow her Facebook and Twitter pages to check where her Kactus Wagon will stop each day.
And the restaurant, which emphasizes healthy ingredients, has a range of customers, she said.
"We get people in here who might walk, professionals who drive," she said.
Herries said Redlands' network of grocery stores and other food sources may change in five years.
"Will this have more farmers markets, more Washington Produce?"
He said he is optimistic.
"(Maps are) the foundation for intelligent conversation and maybe that's why Slow Food would be attractive in a city like Redlands," said Herries, referring to the local chapter of the international local eating movement.
"The challenge to someone like Lee (Burton) or Slow Food is how do you make it work for a mother of two (who is) working? What would she need?
"Simply asking these questions is a victory."