What are Community Food Systems?


In the previous post, I discussed the conflict between industrial agribusiness and healthy food accessibility in our nation. However, this issue has not gone unnoticed by communities. Many regions, cities, and towns across the U.S. are beginning to create community food systems through the work of a group of dedicated individuals. These systems enhance the sovereignty of the communities’ food. Food sovereignty is the right for people and communities to define their own agricultural and food policies that are self-reliant, equitable, safe, sustainable, and appropriate (Grassroots International). Food policy councils are rising as a solution to empower local food production and distribution in order to improve economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and equitable access to fresh food (Garrett & Feenstra). 

         These councils and coalitions are facilitators and catalysts for food system reform. Typically they aim to create support for family farms, enhance marketing and processing of local food, help create new food businesses and jobs, and improve working conditions for food and agriculture workers (Garrett & Feenstra). They typically have a connection with local government and work within existing frameworks of organizations and businesses (Shiff, 2008).

Food policy councils coordinate, network, and implement goals and projects (Shiff, 2008). Therefore, they must strive to be as diverse as possible to enhance political capital and the capacity to move forward (Shiff, 2008). Councils should elected leaders, agency representatives, public health workers, food retailers, farmers, food retailers, anti-hunger advocates, community members, and any other people that are invested in the issues (Garrett & Feenstra). The more diverse the group, the more effective they will be to leverage resources, spread the work, find funding, and work along with community voices and opinions (Garrett & Feenstra).


Figure 1 (Garrett & Feenstra).

Another important component is the community food assessment. Food policy councils should fully understand the condition of their food system before developing goals and policies. Food policy councils should identify existing resources, leadership opportunities, community needs, market openings, and deprivations. For example, the Portland Food Policy Council partnered with Community Food Matters in order to assess the “barriers and opportunities to the use of regional and sustainable food products” (Pierson). This way, the council can target the most important needs first and place them in a better position to evaluate their projects and goals (Garrett & Feenstra). Portland created a number of informed objectives that could increase purchases of local and sustainable foods in the area (Pierson).

The work of community food systems and policies is crucial to combat corporate power and political clout. Communities can create their own solutions to improve the wellbeing of members and give a voice to consumers and farmers. They are incredibly important to build market opportunities for fresh, local food and create jobs and economic empowerment for all. In my next posts I will provide more examples of these systems in action.


“Food Sovereignty”. Grassroots International. Retrieved from: http://www.grassrootsonline.org/issues/food-sovereignty

Garrett, S. & Feenstra, G. Growing a Community Food System. Partnerships in Education and Research. Retrieved from: http://smallfarms.wsu.edu/wsu-pdfs/WREP0135.pdf

Pierson, T. Barriers and Opportunities to the Use of Regional and Sustainable Food Products by Local Institutions. Community Food Matters. Retrieved from: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/116839

Shiff, R. (2008). The Role of Food Policy Councils in Developing Sustainable Food Systems. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 3, 206-228. doi: 10.1080/19320240802244017



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