Monthly Archives: March 2014

Recommendations for Food Security Programs P.2

(Cont. from Part One)

More CFS principles may need to be integrated into projects. This study shows that CFPs deliver many community food security objectives, such as meeting the food needs of low-income populations, supporting small-scale producers, contributing to local economies, and building local food systems by reducing the distance between producers and consumers. However, it also shows that elements of other CFS objectives- espe- cially those related to social justice and ecological sustainability-receive less systematic support in the CFP Program. (See Table 2 for this analysis.) CFP project organizers and other CFS advocates may want to explore whether it is important to integrate some of these objectives more fully into their work and how to do that.

As a key activity of CFPs, education needs more support. The vast majority CFP projects include diverse forms of knowledge-building and education, including raising public awareness on community food issues, skills development, and technical assistance on specific topics related to production, sales, or processing. Projects often dedicate much time and effort to creating basic educational and training resources that may already exist in a similar form that is easily accessible through web-based sources. In many cases, educational products, such as training manuals, audio-visual materials, and conference presenta- tions are used as revenue sources and not freely avail- able to the public. Such educational activities could be enhanced by the CFP Program and other related funders, including through:

• A web-based and readily accessible library of CFP-specific educational materials on food sys tems topics, and how-to manuals on topics such as involving youth in community food production, preparing for markets, planning a community harvest festival, etc., so that projects can use existing compilations. This library could expand on the current offerings by the Community Food Security Coalition, WHY’s Food Security Learning Center, and others.
• Greater support of peer-to-peer education through the institution of learning communities and networks to share experiences, best practices, and lessons learned on specific approaches such as farm to school or food policy councils, and more general concerns such as how to sustain project activities beyond the grant period.
• Encouraging greater involvement by Cooperative Extension in particular aspects of training and technical assistance around community food security.

“Scaling-up” activities need to be supported. Besides local food production and distribution activities supported by CFP, more attention is needed to “scaling up” activities for greater impact and sustainability, and to developing integrated approaches to local and regional food system development. These activities may require higher levels of funding, longer timelines, and specialized expertise to implement due to the more complex nature of physical and organi- zational infrastructure needed in coordinating distri- bution between larger numbers of producers and market outlets over relatively longer distances. However, given the great need for basic community food activities, we recommend that the CFP pro- gram continue to prioritize these over projects with scaling up activities, if significant increases in fund- ing are not obtained.

Building Community Food Security

More support for community readiness is needed. Community and organizational readiness are important factors in successful CFP application and implementation. Readiness has components of shared knowledge, community support and engagement, existing networks, and experience in community food work. Some limited resource organizations may find it especially difficult to implement important pre-proposal planning activities such as conducting assessments, organizing partnerships, engaging com- munity members in planning, and securing needed infrastructure. More funding may be needed to help applicants plan projects and develop effective applications, especially for community-based organiza- tions or coalitions and in geographic regions that have never received CFP funding. Such planning assistance may include travel scholarships to CFSC conferences or skills trainings for groups that are well placed to translate increased readiness into successful CFP applications and projects. It also may include arrangements for one-on-one consultations tailored to the group’s needs and community food ideas.

Community processes could benefit from more training and technical assistance.

Community participation and multi-sectoral collabo- rations also are crucial to successful Community Food Project implementation and the creation of long-term change. However, organizations may have limited skills in community organizing, facilitating participation, and leading processes representing multiple interests and organizational cultures. More resources may need to be directed to providing education, training, and technical assistance to groups on these processes. Similar needs in evaluation were identified in the past and the CFSC has created an effective T&TA Program to support grantees with developing program evaluations. A similar initiative may be needed for organizing communities around food and facilitating collaborative processes that engage community residents effectively. There may exist regional and national groups that already pro- vide such support to communities; such groups may need to be identified and supported.

More rigorous research is needed on innovative community food strategies.

This study surfaced a concern that prospective CFP applicants may feel pressure to adopt untested or inadequately tested innovations related to community food linkages. Because of competition for scarce funding, community-based organizations that originate innovative strategies may feel the need to pres- ent only positive narratives of these strategies. Organizations wishing to replicate them may there- fore have little accurate information about the strate- gies’ strengths and weaknesses. More research is therefore needed that presents rigorous, accurate, and fair assessments of what works and what does not and why, especially in newer approaches to commu- nity food security. Universities and nonprofit research institutes may offer the requisite skills, resources, and distance from grassroots pressures to conduct such research.

Recommendations for Food Security Programs P.1

Some recommendations relate to the CFP Program specifically, while others may apply to community food advocates and/or other funders of community food work. Some recommendations are aimed at regional and national resource networks that provide training, technical assistance, or education to local groups. Some emerge directly and explicitly from project experiences on the ground; others are more implicitly so, and should be viewed as suggestions requiring further dialogue and exploration.

Admittedly, the timing of these recommendations may be problematic as the future of the CFP Program is uncertain at the time this report goes to press. Nonetheless, because these recommendations emerge from an analysis of the program and a number of CFP Projects, they are offered in the hope that they can help advance CFP objectives regardless of the exact future shape of the program. Of course, if the program is eliminated, then the specific CFP recommendations may be rendered moot.


More Community Food Projects need to be funded.

This study shows that Community Food Projects provide many benefits to local food systems and in a variety of community sectors. However, only a few projects can be funded each year. Only 20 percent of the applications received in 2006 were funded, a rate that is typical for the program’s tenure as a whole. As a reviewer over multiple years, the author’s experience (along with many other reviewers) is that a greater number of applications deserve
funding. Many needy urban and rural communities continue to remain unserved by this program. Increasing the total budget of the CFP Program would ensure that a greater number of deserving applications get funded.

USDA Programs with comparable objectives, such as the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, are funded at much higher levels than the CFP Program, receiving nearly $20 million and $15 respectively for fiscal 2007. Community food advocates have requested that the CFP Program be funded at $30 million annually in the 2007 Farm Bill, a significant enhancement over the current annual budget of $5 million.

More Community Food Projects need planning support.

Community food security initiatives are engaged with long-terms systems change, and may need longer-term support (five years or more) and therefore increased funding to build solid partnerships, deepen community involvement, and develop and implement programs that can strengthen outcomes through learning over multiple years. CFP administrators may wish to explore a two-tier funding category similar to that used by many foundations. In the first tier, planning grants could be awarded to more organizations in the earlier stages of community food work, with implementation grants to selected qualified organizations made in the second tier. Given the inherent value of community consultation processes and networks that CFP planning can help build, organizations that receive a first tier of fund- ing but not the second may still come out ahead in building their capacity. Alternatively, promising applications by organizations that may have fallen short of CFP Program requirements could be award- ed a smaller grant to strengthen a particular aspect of their proposal for another application the following year.

Community Food Projects need to be supported in areas that haven’t yet been funded.

The CFP Program has funded communities in almost every state and US territory. The majority of projects involve producing food through gardens and small farms, and making these foods available to local residents, through farm and garden stands, farmers’ markets, school cafeterias, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes, food assistance programs, and direct distribution. These projects are important sources of fresh and healthy food in urban and rural areas, and build community awareness and capacity in food security issues. However, some areas have been much more active in this work and have received many more CFP grants than others. These “hotbeds” of community food activities also are able to attract funding from foundations and other sources that support similar activities. Hence, we believe that the CFP Program should focus on gaining geographic spread in addition to funding deserving innovations from already funded communities.

More communities should receive funding from this program, especially low-income ones that have not previously received support. Exactly how successful applications from these areas may be generated will need further exploration. One solution might be to sponsor “CFP Fellows” or mentors from within particular regions who can help qualified local organizations and partners assemble effective applications. Fellows may be trained by national organizations such as the Community Food Security Coalition, American Community Gardening Association, or World Hunger Year and provided a modest stipend for their mentoring activities. Another approach may be to use regional organizations like Growing Power or the Sustainable Agriculture Working Groups to identify and support local planning and projects that may qualify for CFP funding later.

Community Food Projects may need greater connection to other federal programs that meet low-income needs, especially in relation to nutrition and obesity prevention.

Many CFPs offer sources of fresh and healthy food in urban and rural areas, and build community awareness and capacity in food security issues. Combining CFP benefits with other federal pro- grams that seek to improve access to healthy and affordable food by low-income households may foster synergies among various government programs and multiply benefits to consumers and producers. Some CFPs already bring various government pro- grams together, by for example, developing EBT terminals at farmers’ markets to enable farmers to redeem nutrition program benefits from low-income households. Alternatively, food stamp education funds may help bring a significant nutrition education component into production and direct market- ing of fruits and vegetables in low-income neighbor- hoods. CFP program staff and advocates may need to work together to explore how CFP funds could offer synergies by combining with other USDA and non-USDA federal programs that serve low-income populations.

Other community services to meet the food and other needs of low-income populations should be encouraged to integrate CFS principles.

Community Food Projects deliver many benefits in a variety of sectors, such as the economy, social services, health, recreation, etc. National and regional organizations that provide support to local groups may be able to show how local organizations that meet the food and other needs of low-income populations might benefit from integrating community food security principles into their work. For example, a recent report documents how food banks and other anti-hunger organizations integrate CFS principles into their activities to provide multiple benefits for their constituents (Fisher, 2005). Other similar efforts may address how CFS principles might inform community-based nutrition and health services, affordable housing development projects, job creation and economic development activities, etc.

Read Part 2

Sustainability of CFP activities

The CFP grant program is a one-time funding opportunity for a particular set of eligible activities. Applicants are required to demonstrate how they will sustain project activities and outcomes after the grant ends. Many community food activities, however, are labor-intensive and exist in low-income communities with limited capacity to pay for services. These communities also often lack important infrastructure such as distribution networks, warehouses, or retail facilities, which leads projects to ‘bootstrap’ their efforts in ways that are difficult to maintain over the long term. For these reasons, CFPs often rely on additional grants from foundations, government sources, or other channels. Specific activities and resources that were used to sustain activities include:

• Donations of cash and in-kind support from community members, organizations and businesses. In kind support included volunteer time, equipment, land, and office and warehouse space.
• Grant proposals to foundations and government sources (including some that were successfully funded by the time of CFP completion). A couple of partner organizations, who had previously been part of a broader umbrella organization, successfully filed for their own 501(c)(3) status to be able to generate funding independently.
• Revenue from sale of food and non-food products, land and equipment rentals, training and consulting services, conference registrations, and memberships.
• Installation of infrastructure and assets, such as trees, gardens, greenhouses, land, EBT machines, etc., that will continue to produce project outputs (and sometimes revenue) with minimal additional inputs.
• Development of toolkits including replication manuals, training materials, and models for gar- dens, farmers’ markets, and other activities taken up by particular CFPs.
• Development of key intermediate outputs such as a business plan to raise capital, a strategic plan to be presented to the city council for approval, or application for culinary training program accreditation.
• Links with local universities to continue training activities and involve students in projects.
• Integration of programs into existing operations such as regular school curricula, CFP grantee operational budgets, or public agency offerings.
• Reduction of scale of activities to levels that can be sustained by volunteers or existing funding.
• Ongoing outreach, education, and marketing to raise awareness of issues, and generate interest in and support for the CFP grantee’s activities.
• Continuation of relationships with partners and development of new relationships to deliver key services, develop local policies, and secure additional resources.
• Culmination of grantee involvement in activity because of success. For example, a business or farmers’ market developed by the CFP became self-sustaining; a school adopted a local food purchase plan; lasting business relationships between farmers and area stores were created; a local purchasing resolution was passed by the state legislature; or a long-term contract with the city for funding a food policy council was obtained.

How Community Food Projects Create Systems Change

This report discussed the serious limitations CFPs faced in delivering CFS in sustained ways. Projects are inherently limited in scope, funding, and time- span. They cannot be expected to single-handedly create the substantial market and institutional infra- structure that is needed to support lasting community food security. However, CFPs can and do create lasting changes that contribute significantly to improving community food security. Systems change also is a desired objective of the Community Food Projects Program. From this study, several Lessons from Community Food Projects, 1999-2003 mechanisms were identified that create systems change in CFP projects.

Alternative entrepreneurship

When community-oriented food businesses become self-sustaining, they create mechanisms that deliver community food security objectives. They may support local producers, create jobs, keep money in the local economy, meet demand for local products, support healthy eating, and/or create other benefits. When these businesses are owned by women, people of color, or members of other groups that are under-served by the mainstream food system, alternative entrepreneurship also helps enhance social equity.

Physical and organizational infrastructure

The creation of bricks-and-mortar infrastructure in the form of warehouses, grocery stores, greenhouses, etc., and even less permanent infrastructure such as garden beds, hoop houses, and community garden land helps support CFP activities over the longer term. Farmers who have access to warehouses can pool their products and deliver larger quantities to local retailers and school cafeterias, and thereby cut their costs. Groups of community residents can continue their involvement and engage new members at a site prepared by the CFP. Distribution logistics systems that help farmers cooperatively plan for production, delivery, and payment when connecting with multiple retailers are another type of infrastructure that creates new systems.

Public policies, plans, and new government programs

Several CFPs were able to develop local policies that supported community food goals, provided resources, and created related public agency pro- grams. The most common of these related to school food and farmers’ markets. In a couple of cases, state policies also were successfully developed and adopted. These policies and new government programs represent local political commitment to community food security. When public schools integrate school gardens into their regular curricula (as was the case with a couple of study CFPs), or develop pur- chasing agreements with local farmers to supply cafeterias, these shifts help create significant long-term and systemic impacts.

Shifts in organizational mission and activity

As anti-hunger organizations connect their participants with local sources of fresh and healthy foods through local gardens or farms, such organizations also may shift their missions and programs to better reflect CFS goals. These goals include household food self-reliance, support of local producers, and food entrepreneurship. Such organizational changes help direct resources toward new initiatives that help build the capacity of individual households, farmers, and local communities.

Youth leadership

Several CFPs in the study involved young people as activity leaders, peer educators, and community organizers. As youth learn about community food security issues and their community’s food needs and see the changes they are able to make through their actions, they become empowered to continue taking positive leadership in their communities. Youth leadership in food is an especially powerful force for change in a larger context in which youth are bombarded with marketing messages to consume nutritionally deficient foods.

Changes in youth and adult behavior

Sustained changes in behavior related to buying, eating, production, etc. that come about due to enhanced knowledge, changed attitudes, and new forms of peer support, are yet another form of systems change. As more individuals re-orient their buying and eating to include more local and healthy foods in their diets, they also change local agri-food economies as a result. As eaters come to see them- selves as more connected to their local communities, economies, and environments, they also are able to ask for public policies that enrich these connections.

A new community culture

CFPs help build more community connections among food sectors and between food and community sectors. These connections help showcase successful models of farming or business development, support new initiatives, and create channels for advocacy. During events such as harvest festivals, community garden tours, and other local food celebrations that bring together food advocates and other residents, they create a shared sense that positive food system change is possible and exciting. These community connections can help change the culture of a community. Once formed, they may require only minimal ongoing work to maintain and recharge.


Few CFPs have the resources and skills to implement broad-based community participation.

“We also, like many other CFP projects, did not do as much diligent surveying of all impacted communities from our projects, so we met with some resistance for some of our goals.” – Former CFP Grantee

Many organizations that apply for CFP grants represent particular sectors such as food assistance, urban agriculture, or nutrition education. They may lack the resources or skills with which to organize and plan for broad-based community participation on an ongoing basis. Without such a process, proposals are just educated guesses despite some knowledge of the community, especially as it pertains to particular sectors. Although this aspect is now at least partially addressed by a small CFP planning grant category, the vast majority of applications are for projects that seek community input in only limited ways. This may be partly because applicants feel that the low probability of getting funded does not merit a large investment in community engagement and related planning for the proposed project.

Community and organizational con- texts pose special barriers to implementing CFPs.

Beyond frustrations related to the CFP Program itself, study participants also identified specific barriers related to community contexts, partnerships, and organizational challenges in implementing projects. Food projects are vulnerable to unusual weather and seasonal limitations. Many CFPs had to deal with natural challenges such as drought, hurricane damage, and especially hot summers that made food production or outside work difficult. They also had to respond to more mundane situations, some of which could have been anticipated earlier-such as the reality that youth desire for summer employment made them reluctant volunteers in projects, good quality agricultural land could be hard to secure for a new farmer project, or that some new markets may receive less traffic than anticipated. Because CFP activities tend to be seasonal and the growing season is critical for production and marketing activities, such obstacles cause some activities simply to fold until the following year, creating significant delays in the delivery of project objectives. In addition, because novel approaches are not sufficiently studied for their lessons, projects often get delayed due to missteps and course corrections that are needed as a result.

CFPs confront varying levels of knowledge of community food security principles.

“Some [people in my region] have no clue of what we’re talking about when we talk about food security… so we see this system of food banks and … as long as you can go get [food from them], why do we need to worry about [market-based] access to food? When I look at the attendance list for this conference, I noticed only three people from [my state]. … I’ve found that to be a chal- lenge for us to try and move things here; sometimes we’re the only ones playing the drum. …The next step is educating states, governors, legislators, etc., they’re just not there, how do you turn that around? [Furthermore],… there are very few state resources available for matching funds…” – Former CFP Grantee

CFPs often find that their efforts to raise awareness of their project or to implement particular activities are hindered by a low level of awareness of key community food security principles that underlie the CFP Program. One CFP representative complained that major food organizations in his area were squarely in the food assistance mode and could not think beyond charity-based assistance. Other participants mentioned the puzzlement they experienced in the community when talking about urban agriculture projects or developing small-scale value-added enterprises involving low-income individuals. These and similar reactions may create the need to slow down and take the time to help participants under- stand the project and its purposes-and/or for the organizers to understand participants’ interests and concerns and why they aren’t communicating effectively. This creates valuable opportunities for mutual learning, but it also may cut into implementation of the planned project.

Partnerships can be taxing to projects.

Problems with partnerships often make project activities difficult to design, coordinate, and implement collaboratively. Getting partners to a common understanding of “what the project is about” and the translation of project objectives into specific activities can take time in the best of circumstances. Partnerships surface legitimate differences in interests, expectations, cultures, and professional approaches among participants that need to be aired and resolved. Sometimes public employees or other partners who are important to CFP projects cannot attend due to changes in or lack of support from their organizations.

Partnerships also can pose more pernicious problems.

Several participants complained that some organizations were more interested in furthering narrow organizational interests than in developing community capacity and sustainable solutions. In other cases, partnerships created conflicts related to the allocation of project funding, accountability for delivering specific activities, turf issues, and management conflicts. Difficult personalities are another common source of problems within partnerships. Participants expressed frustration with the additional time, communications, and resources that need to be dedicated in order to implement collaborative aspects of the project. Considerable planning and time was required for communication through conference calls, meetings, electronic lists, etc. One participant emphasized the need to view relationship and capacity development in partnerships as programmatic objectives in themselves rather than simply as tools for delivering content. In this view, the payoffs from investing time and effort in partnership building are significant. Indeed, strong partnerships that last beyond the project lifetime were identified as an indicator of success by many study participants.

Thus, partnerships can be a double-edged sword for community-based initiatives. They can create value far in excess of an individual member’s contributions, or they can drain time and energy and hamper project objectives. Most projects, according to focus group participants, tend to fall somewhere in between, with the perceived benefits outweighing the challenges.

CFPs find inadequate critical information on successes and failures of CFS approaches. Since CFPs are being asked to develop and implement novel approaches to food, agriculture, and nutrition problems, they also are looking for information about the successes and failures of new approaches that have been tried elsewhere. One study participant was especially troubled by the rush to replicate specific approaches used in CFP Projects- such as food policy councils, small processing ventures, etc.-without adequate and critical information on what worked and what did not. Organizations that initiate novel approaches feel pressured to present narratives of success, so that others who attempt to replicate their approaches do so with incomplete and sometimes biased information. Competitive pressures for funding and visibility also lead organizations to exaggerate benefits and downplay challenges or failures they experience.


Study CFPs faced many challenges in implementing their projects. In some cases, these challenges represented the flip side of successes. For example, the partnerships, community-engagement, and multi-sectoral approaches that were reported as key to project success also posed many hurdles to groups. Although we were interested primarily in challenges faced in the implementation of the project on the ground, participants took the opportunity to air frustrations with the CFP Program requirements. Sometimes these frustrations were integrally connected to the frustrations felt on the ground. Since these are significant to their assessment of challenges faced in the project, they are mentioned in a separate cate- gory below.
The CFP Program’s requirements can be onerous to grassroots initiatives.

Project representatives identified many challenges in the CFP Program’s application requirements that caused frustration and consumed a great deal of time and effort. Many of these requirements are statutory or required by CSREES, and therefore cannot be modified by program administrators. Others may be more amenable to changes in the program design; indeed, as this section shows, program administrators have modified some practices in recent grant cycles to address project representatives’ concerns.

CFP application requires much background preparation.

The CFP application process requires considerable prior investment of time and effort in establishing the case for the project, assembling partnerships, designing project activities collaboratively, and securing matching funds. Project match may include land for production, kitchen infrastructure for culinary training programs, or related space and equipment; these resources can be hard to secure in a short period of time. Organizations without significant prior experience in community food work, or with extremely limited resources may find it especially difficult to implement these steps prior to application. Furthermore, because of the competitive nature of the program, organizations are unsure if their extensive efforts to submit an application will pay off. Some organizations therefore decide not to re-apply after an initial rejection, or find themselves inadequately prepared to implement the grant if funded because of limited background planning and ground- work. The complexities of the application process also may discourage some organizations that may be worthy of support from even trying to apply.

Electronic submission requirement may keep some groups from applying.

The CFP Program seeks to support initiatives that meet the food needs of low-income communities and support small producers and processors. These population groups and the organizations that serve them typically work at the grassroots level, and often are limited in their access to technology, specialized skills, and discretionary staff time to apply for funding. Requirements for electronic submission can be particularly difficult for groups with older computer equipment, and for limited-resource groups located in disadvantaged urban or rural areas. These barriers may exclude some groups that are well positioned to deliver program objectives in meeting food needs or connecting small producers with consumers.

The CFP requirement for innovative solutions can push applicants to over- promise.

“I believe we have to oversell, or promise too much to be able to attract funding. So we try to connect so many pieces to try to make it look [systemic].” – Former CFP Grantee

According to project representatives, the program’s emphasis on innovation can push organizations to suggest projects that contain untested approaches or activities that may be beyond their capacity to deliver, or that patch together unconnected community food activities in an attempt to show multi-sectoral connections. For example, one project combined food policy council and farm to school activities in ways that stretched organizational resources because of the lack of immediate and ongoing synergies between the two components. This project adopted two approaches that were innovative at the time of the grant. However, based on this experience, this project representative felt that they might have been better served if they had waited until the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches were better understood.

The CFP requirement for sustainability following a one-time grant can make it hard to maintain successful activities that fulfill the program objectives.

No funder likes to pay for maintenance of projects, only start-ups and enhancements. It is almost impossible to create a self sustaining aspect to a project in three years, especially since USDA doesn’t specifically pay for activities that are mostly fund-raising. Focus Group Participant The ‘one-time infusion of funds’ guideline also makes it difficult to apply for additional CFP funding to maintain or expand project activities that have built a track record of success. Some CFPs, especially newer organizations, lack the track record or capacity to raise significant additional funding after only two or three years of project experience, and are therefore less able to sustain activities after the grant period. CFPs funded over multiple rounds have effectively created new projects that build on previous successes in ways that also are innovative. Their strategies and experiences may need to be shared with newer organizations via conferences and list-servs that include CFP representatives.

Partial CFP funding has created problems for partnerships.

When grants are made at a significantly lower level than that requested, organizations have to rescale activities and renegotiate partnership arrangements. In this process, winners and losers emerge among partners, leading to disappointment and resentment even as the project is initiated. One participant reported that these changes were so painful that given the choice, she would have opted for not being funded at all. This issue has been addressed by pro- gram administrators in recent rounds of CFP awards, so that more grants are made at requested levels. This action demonstrates the program’s responsiveness to concerns emerging from the grassroots.

Having to show one-to-one match may exclude some organizations from the program.

The requirement of documenting a one-to-one project match in the application also poses challenges for many groups seeking CFP funds, especially limited resource organizations. This may create a vicious cycle of exclusion from the CFP umbrella in some cases. Because some organizations may not own or are unable to secure firm commitments of land, infrastructure, and resources needed to implement activities, they can only ask for relatively low sums of money to match their lower resources, or may be discouraged from applying at all. Although the match requirement is often a reasonable indicator of capacity to deliver project objectives, it may effectively keep some otherwise qualified organizations from applying to the CFP Program. Perhaps a grant level could be set so that match requirements would dis- appear or be greatly reduced at or below that level. Such a grant category could benefit organizations that work at a smaller scale and seek only modest increments to existing activities.

Read Part 2…

Successes and Challenges: Lessons from Community Food Projects

Other than substantive objectives related to local food production and meeting the food needs of low- income populations, the CFP Program specifies numerous process-related objectives and priorities. These include community capacity building, collaborative stakeholder processes, multi-system and interagency approaches, and resident participation in addressing local food, agriculture, and nutrition issues. Sustaining activities and outcomes beyond the life of the project is another key program priority.

In trying to understand elements of successful practice that cut across projects of different types, this section explores the following questions related to project processes:
• What are the elements of successful CFP practice and what practice-related challenges do Community Food Projects encounter?
• How do CFPs manage to sustain activities after the grant ends?
• In what ways can project-level activities create systemic change?

In organizing focus group responses and grantee report findings related to these questions, it is difficult to separate features that describe successful projects and their outcomes from the elements that help explain successes. For example, strong partnerships have been identified as outcomes of successful projects as well as tools by which to create successful projects. Other similar categories include “shared knowledge of CFS principles and goals,” “community experience and readiness for local food system development,” “community food leadership,” and so on.

There are at least two explanations for this overlap between outcomes and facilitators of successful projects. One, CFPs are essentially community-based experiments in which individuals, organizations, and networks learn through multiple iterations in which practices are honed, resources are increased, and leadership is created. Thus, outputs of one round become inputs to the next one. Two, study CFPs involve organizations and communities at varying levels of knowledge, skills, experience, and network capacity as these relate to community food security practice. What may be an outcome for a new non- profit just starting out may be an important tool for another, more experienced organization to achieve more advanced objectives.

Both sets of responses are therefore combined below into one set of “key characteristics of successful community food projects.” Because of the diversity of objectives and activities undertaken by study projects, the responses to these questions are general and have to do with overall project or organizational factors or partnership-related factors that can be found across activities that may involve, say, community gardening, farmers’ markets, or culinary training. Although the study had exceptional projects that could be considered successful even if they did not have all of the following characteristics, most successful projects contained the elements discussed in this section to a lesser or greater degree.

See what makes a successful project here.


“Partnerships in our grant were definitely important. Especially unlikely partners, those were important… and we went after those… For example, the mayor’s office had launched an effort in sustainability; it was mostly about energy, but they were very interested in a participatory process. We worked with them, and educated them on food issues, and they set up the food policy council to do the food assessment and develop the action plan. Because they came in as a partner, everyone involved is very much a food activist, because they got so many opportunities [to participate] out of this project. Farmers, school district partners… we had a real variety of partners, that was a key part of our success. The things we did, we couldn’t have done individually. So, the buy-in, the momentum, the timing was right, the synergy of all that was happening [made the project] a big success.” – Former CFP Grantee

Successful projects develop innovative, multi-sector approaches. Successful projects often bring together players representing food or community sectors who may not have collaborated before the project, or bring them together in altogether new roles. In this study, food marketing efforts connected individual farmers and cafeteria vendors and managers; food policy councils engaged public and private agencies in health, economic development, sustainability, and planning; gardening projects presented youth as teachers and facilitators; and new farmer initiatives brought together farmland owners and immigrant workers in new relationships. These and other projects helped create new linkages among existing community sectors and brought new perspectives to old problems of food insecurity, low farm income, and neighborhood disadvantage.

Institutional support from local public agencies was particularly helpful for project implementation, through access to resources and assistance from agency staff, according to study participants. It also was important to sustaining activities at the end of the CFP grant, by helping attract additional funding and incorporating some project activities into the agency. Public agencies (such as departments of health and education and extension agencies) also provided linkages to other sectors of government, helped with long-term planning and policy, and leveraged involvement from other local organizations. Study participants pointed to the excitement generated by the innovative approaches of their projects, which engaged partners in novel ways. They also pointed to the depth of learning created by cross-sectoral interactions, and the “aha” nature of revelations that emerged as actions were implemen ed.

Successful projects build community food leadership. Successful projects help cultivate individual and organizational leaders, and community leadership capacity around community food issues and activities. Projects help develop knowledge and experience around specific activities such as urban agriculture training, local policy adoption, farmers’ market development, and linking local farmers with institutional markets, as well as broader organizational skills. As individuals and organizations meet needs and produce outcomes, they also become “go-to” sources in the community on particular issues, pass along their knowledge and skills to newcomers, and help bring more attention and resources to their activities. The development of community food leadership is a tangible indicator of building capacity to address community issues.

The most successful effort that we ever did was to start public conversations about local farmland and start a Harvest Fest to get people on farms. This led to the creation of farmland preservation projects and funding that keeps growing because we built citizen leadership and eventually elected leaders who ran on the platform of saving farmland. Former CFP Grantee
To the extent that such leaders continue to advance community food security issues, they can help advance the project’s goals and perhaps sustain some the activities after CFP funding ends. Successful networks are able to cultivate a cadre of leaders who can work together, legitimately represent diverse sectors and constituencies, and be accountable to each other and the community. Food is a cross-cutting issue that links with multiple sectors in the community. One project leader in this study who initially got involved with urban agriculture and farmers’ market projects, for example, has moved into local health policy and has been able to create broader impacts for her skills.

Successful projects are able to sustain selected activities after the grant ends. A successful CFP is able to develop a group’s resource capacity and experience and put into place mechanisms to continue selected key activities beyond the timeline of the grant where appropriate. These mechanisms may involve successful additional fundraising, income-generating activities, continuing involvement of staff and volunteers, the integration of project activities into the partners’ ongoing activities, and internal cross-subsidies that allow service- oriented components to be supported by entrepreneurial components. These are discussed in greater detail in a subsequent paragraph that lists sustain- ability mechanisms used by CFPs.

Few CFPs are able to sustain all project activities at high levels after the grant ends. The typical Community Food Project has many elements that are labor intensive, such as those related to food production, sales, training, etc. Many activities are service-oriented and do not generate income or become self-supporting in other ways. Low-income communities also have limited ability to pick up the costs of services provided by CFPs, and CFP organizations typically also lack surplus funds to continue activities on their own. Despite these broad challenges, successful CFPs effectively put in place measures during the grant period to help sustain selected activities beyond the life of the grant.


Successful projects show progress in meeting particular community food needs. Successful CFPs are able to articulate to local and national audiences how their project helped create change in their areas by providing tangible resources, enhancing community knowledge, and increasing collaborative capacity to meet food needs of low-income populations. This goes beyond articulating how they satisfied the formal requirements of their grant. They are able to show the difference their project made to the place or population groups served with stories, images, and statistics that help distinguish “before” and “after” situations. They also are able to place their project, and its partnerships and activities, in a broader context of community and food system resources and needs. Therefore, successful CFPs are realistic about accomplishments and understand the limits and barriers they face.

Grantee report summaries suggest that experienced and better-resourced food organizations implement multiple, related projects–including CFP activities–in ways that build on each other. Thus, they are able to show more benefits as a result of these synergies. What is difficult to know is whether an organization’s success in attracting additional funding proportionately increases its effectiveness at meeting community needs as articulated by the CFP Program.

Successful projects are able to “hit the ground running.” Successful CFPs have built the requisite base to pre- pare them to move forward with implementing proposed activities soon after the grant award. This usually means that there are experienced staff members on board; key partners have been lined up with tentative agreements; there is a plan for recruiting project participants; and there is sufficient community buy-in about the need for the project and the approaches adopted. This aspect of community and organizational readiness is important because it can take quite a bit of time to develop these capacities. Project representatives who had these elements in place when the project started felt that the timing of the grant award was just right.

“For us, probably two factors made our project successful. [The first were] the resources [that were already] in place. We had plenty of fields, a kitchen, groups that could be brought in to a group setting out to start the education process. [The] second thing, not quantifiable for reporting, a passionate staff ready to do what they needed to do. That’s what made our project successful…” – Former CFP Grantee

The short timeline that projects have to deliver com- plex community food security objectives means that organizations with experience in the activities and collaborations that are proposed, and with resources to “hit the ground running” are ahead in being able to effectively deliver project objectives. Unfortunately, some organizations have neither the prior network or resources and experience needed to start implementation activities in a timely fashion, nor to adapt to challenges that emerge because of inadequate planning. In one case, a CFP in a rural community sought to provide area youth with train- ing in farming and nutrition; however, young peo- ple’s need for transportation and paid summer employment, and lack of staff skilled in nutrition led to a considerable scaling back of program objectives. The addition of planning grants in the CFP Program may help such organizations anticipate problems and plan effectively.

Successful projects gain community buy-in and support of activities. Successful CFPs come out of community processes in which the needs to be addressed by the project, its approaches and strategies, and the specific roles of partners all have been deliberated upon in broad strokes if not in great detail. When the CFP application emerges from a community food assessment whose findings are shared and discussed within the larger community, this helps build community buy- in. This buy-in helps heighten visibility of the issues addressed, assures that key partners are at the table, and enables projects to move forward more effective- ly. In turn, successful projects are able to reinforce community buy-in and ownership as they provide information, resources, and relationships needed in the community. When a project is proposed by an existing network of organizations, the networks can serve as a useful, though limited, proxy for broader community buy-in.
Many prospective applicants have limited ability to build community buy-in prior to the implementation of a larger Community Food Project grant. The recent addition of a planning category in CFP may help such organizations submit effective proposals in the future.

Successful projects adapt effectively to changing and unforeseen conditions. During implementation, CFPs often confront barriers that were unforeseen or inadequately addressed during the planning stages. For example, project representatives discussed difficulties with recruitment of participants in income-generating activities related to food processing, low levels of awareness among partners of community food security principles that were being advanced in their project, resistance of neighbors to a proposed community garden, securing land for a new farmer project, and engagement of community members in a youth leadership training project. In one case, a local mayor’s sustainability initiative provided an unanticipated resource that led the project in a new direction that turned out to be quite productive. Successful CFPs are able to assess these challenges and resources in the community context, develop alternative strategies, and put them into action in a timely fashion. Such flexibility and adaptability require both leadership and capacity within organizations and networks, and a can-do attitude that persists in the face of short-term setbacks.

A three-year CFP timeline also allowed grantees and their partners to learn about what worked and what didn’t, shift course, and develop more sophisticated practices. Participants credited the CFP Program administration in allowing a degree of flexibility in shifting project objectives to respond to unanticipat- ed and emerging community conditions.

Successful projects are able to build and strengthen effective community-based networks. Many successful CFPs effectively create, use, and strengthen community networks over the course of their project. These networks represent different sec- tors of the area’s food system and also link food sector actors with those in other community sectors. For example, networks may include nonprofits involved in food assistance, sustainable agriculture, health promotion, local food marketing, and com- munity development; local public agencies in health, economic development, planning, and recreation; and more rarely, private sector organizations repre- senting farmer, retailer, or food service vendor inter- ests. Besides helping create buy-in and a sense of collective ownership, strong community-based net- works contribute to other important characteristics of successful projects, such as adaptability and sus- tainability.

Strong networks are generally characterized by broadly shared goals, mutual respect and trust, and a shared knowledge base about the community con- text. They also have a capacity to work together to plan and implement projects, and the ability to develop innovative approaches through a collective assessment of problems and assets. Networks help projects in practical ways by recruiting participants and resources, identifying opportunities, and devel- oping complementary activities, thereby strengthening contributions of individual organizations. Networks, however, also can bring with them ten- sions, turf and resource conflicts, and differences in culture that can challenge project implementation. These are discussed in subsequent paragraphs highlighting challenges faced by CFPs.

Read Part 2

CFP Activities: Results from Community Food Projects in 1999-2003

The last section discussed community food security principles and the extent to which they are integrated into the CFP Program. This section provides more specific information about the projects funded by CFP, such as the types of organizations that lead projects, community food activities they collectively provide, and methods by which they sustain activities after the grant ends. It reflects data from summaries of grantee reports from 42 CFP Projects funded between 1999 and 2003. Note that these summaries may not include all the significant activities and elements of each project, so the numbers reported below may be lower than their actual frequency in projects in some cases. Appendix A dis- cusses what the report summaries contain, how the analysis was done, and the strengths and weaknesses of the information offered by these summaries.


Community Food Projects funded between 1999 and 2003 represented a range of community food activities, including gardening involving urban youth, farmers’ markets, new farmer training, and Native American food systems. They were from 27 states and the District of Columbia. Grant funds varied from a low of $22,000 for three years to nearly the full amount of $250,000 over three years. (Note: the maximum request for CFP was increased to $300,000 in 2004). The types of organizations represented by grantees also varied widely (see Table 2 for details).

At least 15 projects served communities that were predominantly African-American, Latino, Native American, or immigrant and refugee groups from around the world. Many others served communities with a mixed ethnic and racial make up. Although report summaries do not contain specific information on the extent to which low-income residents were served by individual CFPs, we believe that this number is high. Projects are required to provide benefits to low-income communities, and most are situated in these communities.

Each Community Food Project involved an average of 3.8 partner organizations, with one reporting as many as nine partners. Partners included public agencies, including city departments, university faculty, and county cooperative extension agencies; for- profit firms; and other nonprofit organizations.


Community Food Projects studied addressed a range of community food security activities, including farm and garden production for self-consumption and sales, processing, and distribution. They also implemented related training, education, and community outreach, and on occasion, policy development and planning. Some focused intensively on a select set of activities to meet local needs or fill gaps in a particular sector, while others sought to develop broader networks by creating linkages and related policy infrastructure. The vast majority of projects included small-scale food production for local sales, and related outreach, education, and training.

Less common activities in study CFPs included those related to food processing, culinary arts skill development, traditional foods, development of distribution logistics coordinating multiple producers and sales outlets, and brokering linkages between farms and institutions such as schools. Some of these activities are important for scaling up local food systems from limited production for direct sales, and need greater attention to resources such as warehouses and refrigeration; transportation networks and infrastructure; broader collaborations, including between private and public entities; and longer-term planning and implementation. Less common in CFPs studied were activities related to food assessments and policy development. These activities have seen more sup- port in CFPs funded after 2003.

Forty-three percent of combined activities in projects included some form of organized knowledge building (this excludes community assessments and food policy councils, so the total including those activities would be much higher). These include raising awareness of community members about local food issues, organizing educational events such as field trips, developing school and college curricula, training in activities such as food production or cooking, and providing technical assistance on specialized topics such as financial management for new farmers. See Table 3 for details on food sector activities implemented by Community Food Projects studied.

The distribution of activity types documents how CFP Program objectives are translated in practice. Although basic activities in food production and sales to meet food needs of low-income populations are significant CFP activities and a key CFP Program priority, those in skills training and raising public awareness also are important to building community capacity and comprehensive, long-term solutions. Hence most CFPs balance program objectives through a combination of production, direct marketing, and related educational strategies.


In addition to involving a variety of food system sectors, such as production, processing, and distribution, Community Food Projects also contribute to a variety of community sectors such as health, economy, and human services. This is true also of the mainstream industrial food system. It provides positive outcomes such jobs and an abundance of affordable food, as well as negative outcomes such as obesity, water pollution, and lower access to healthy food in low-income areas. The community food security approach strives to reduce these negative outcomes and to generate multiple, positive outcomes associated with community sectors such as health, economy, land use, culture, and the environment.

CFPs studied contributed to community health/nutrition (via food marketing or food assistance activities) in at least 56 percent of activities-by far the most significant form of community linkage. Because entrepreneurial and market-based strategies are emphasized in the program, these are noted under the category of Market-based Activities represent 50 percent of all activities. CFPs also contributed to other community sectors such as the local culture and the natural environment, although at much lower levels in the cases studied. This distribution of activities across different community sectors reflects the CFP Program’s embrace of multiple approaches to meet the food needs of low-income populations. These include building community capacity; providing comprehensive and long-term solutions to local food, agricul- ture, and nutrition problems; and developing related physical infrastructure.

It must be noted that grantee report summaries tended not to identify benefits in categories unspecified by the CFP RFA. Therefore, it is highly likely that this study undercounts links in community sec- tors other than those emphasized by the CFP Program-e.g., meeting local food needs while promoting entrepreneurial food system solutions. For example, a community garden member may be able eat more healthfully and also supplement her income through participation in the CFP. Additionally, she may also be able to broaden her knowledge about certain ethnic foods, socialize with neighbors, and get significant recreation benefits. Such additional benefits are typically not included in grantee reports, but nonetheless represent significant project impacts.
As mentioned in Section 2, the scale of individual CFP activities often is relatively small and direct impacts are typically limited to the area in which funded projects are located. Taken together, however, these activities paint a picture of closer and denser links between producers and consumers in these localities, increased awareness of local food systems, and greater integration of food systems into diverse aspects of community life.

In short, CFPs deliver community food security primarily through the impacts of specific activities to increase access to healthy and culturally appropriate food by low-income populations and to support local producers who enable this access. However, the CFP Program faces limits in terms of community food security issues addressed in projects, characteristics of applicants and grantees, and the ways in which CFPs can deliver long-term food security. Many of these limits are a result of the broader economic and policy structures that shape the context of CFP work.