Lessons From Community Food Projects Past

Community Food Projects implement creative and dynamic programs that strengthen their communities and build their food systems. Over the past 10 years, the impact of the more than 240 projects funded by the USDA Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program has been impressive. This report was initiat- ed out of an interest in articulating the successes and challenges of these projects and the factors that affect them, so that future Community Food Projects can benefit from these lessons.

Initiated as part of a Community Food Projects Training and Technical Assistance grant focused on evalua- tion, this research is one of the first attempts at summarizing Community Food Project activities and results across programs. It complements the Common Output Tracking Form (COTF), implemented in 2005 to track outputs across CFPs, and adds breadth and depth to this numerical data.1
The research for this project was directed by Dr. Kami Pothukuchi with support from a research intern, Tammy Morales. The project was managed by Jeanette Abi-Nader, the Evaluation Program Manager for the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC). Dr. Pothukuchi also authored this paper and worked with Jeanette Abi-Nader and Kai Siedenburg of CFSC on editing. The graphic design was done by Rebecca Mann and coordinated by Aleta Dunn of CFSC.

The research conducted on five years of past Community Food Project (CFP) grant report summaries and on related literature was truly brought to life in our two focus group interviews with seven experienced Community Food Project grantees. Although the focus group was small, it included diverse projects and types of organizations. Their stories helped provide a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to Community Food Project successes and struggles.

In addition to providing extensive information regarding Community Food Projects and the intersection of CFP work and community food security principles, this report also highlights the key factors that were iden- tified as contributing to a successful CFP. On the next page, we have highlighted eight characteristics of suc- cessful Community Food Projects, which are further explained in Section IV. These characteristics are not an exhaustive list and not every successful CFP would necessarily demonstrate all characteristics. Instead, they offer a snapshot of the characteristics we found common among the projects we studied.

We wish to congratulate the Community Food Projects Program staff for their dedication and innovation toward creating a more just and healthful food system.


  • They show progress in meeting particular community food needs.
  • They are able to “hit the ground running”.
  • They gain community buy-in and support of activities.
  • They adapt effectively to changing and unforeseen conditions.
  • They are able to build and strengthen effective community-based networks.
  • They develop innovative, multi-sector approaches.
  • They build community food leadership.
  • They are able to sustain selected activities after the grant ends.