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.