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.