What’s Cooking in Your Food System?





Funding provided by

University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program

California Department of Health Services and the California Nutrition Network,
with funding support from the National Food Stamp Program, US Department of Agriculture

US Department of Agriculture Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program

Published by

Community Food Security Coalition P.O. Box 209
Venice, CA 90294
(310) 822-5410 cfsc@foodsecurity.org www.foodsecurity.org

We welcome limited duplication of contents of this Guide for non-profit and educational purposes. Please credit the source in all copies, and if possible, include this cover page.

Notes on cover photos:

Poster created in 2002 for an assessment conducted by the Neighborhood Food Network in Portland. Artist: Alison Farrell. Photo credit: Eric Sopkin.

Planning session for the Detroit Food Security Council in 1999. Photo credit: Lou Murray.

Farm stand organized by NorthEast Neighborhood Alliance at the Rochester Public Market in 1999. Photo credit: Kali Meeks.

Graphic design by Val Echavarria.

Preface Chapter 1:

Chapter 2:

Chapter 3:


Chapter 4:

Chapter 5:

Chapter 6:


Communities and Food 3

1. What’s Wrong With the Current Food System? 3 2. The Community Food Security Movement 5 3. Community Food Assessments as a Tool for Community Food Security 6 4. Overview of the Contents of This Guide 8

Defining Community Food Assessment: Elements and Purposes 11

1. Key Elements of a Community Food Assessment 11 2. Why Do a Community Food Assessment? 16

Community Food Assessment Case Studies 21

  1. Introduction 21
  2. Community Food Assessment Case Studies 22 Austin, Texas 22 Berkeley, California 24 Detroit, Michigan 25 Los Angeles, California 27 Madison, Wisconsin 28 Milwaukee, Wisconsin 30 North Country Region, New York 32 San Francisco, California 33 Somerville, Massachusetts 36

Planning Your Community Food Assessment 41

1. Getting Your Assessment Team Together 41 2. Clarifying Assessment Goals, Interests, and Decision Processes 46 3. Planning the Assessment Budget and Mobilizing Resources 50 4. Planning the Assessment Research 52 5. Planning for the Use and Evaluation of Your Assessment 56

Designing and Doing the Assessment Research 59

1. Mapping Out Your Research Questions 59 2. Translating Questions Into Indicators 62 3. Using Primary and Secondary Sources of Data 66 4. A Brief Overview of Research Methods 68 5. Some Considerations in Ensuring Quality Research 69 6. Community Participation in Research 70 7. Assessing Food Access in Your Community: An Illustration 71

Putting Your Community Food Assessment to Work 77

1. Disseminating Your Assessment’s Findings 77 2. Putting Your Assessment to Work 82


Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures

Community Food Security Goals and Community Food Assessment 7 Types of Organizations Participating in Case Studies 14 Communities Addressed by Case Studies 21 Sponsoring Organizations for Case Studies 23 Hunger and Food Insecurity in Detroit 26 Differences in Food Security Concerns by Respondent’s Housing Tenure, Madison, WI 29 Problems Identified in Using “Best” Stores, Milwaukee, WI 31 Types of Stores Where Commonly Used Items are Purchased Most Often, Milwaukee, WI 32 Barriers to Purchasing Healthful Foods, San Francisco, CA 34 Most Valuable Community Resources for Purchasing Healthful Foods, San Francisco, CA 35 Information Gathered by Assessment Case Study Groups 38 Implementation Matrix Developed Through Community Mapping Process 45 Funding and In-kind Resources Used in Case Studies 51 Arriving at Assessment Questions 60 Reasons Why Respondents Did Not Have Enough Food, Green Bay, WI 61 Secondary Data Sources for Your Assessment 67 Mega Grocery Stores and High Poverty Areas (Detroit) 72 Mega Grocery Stores and High Density Areas (Detroit) 73 Vehicle Ownership in the Detroit Area 74

Preface Background

This Guide is aimed at informing and supporting the development of Community Food Assessments as a tool for increasing community food security and creating positive change. In 1993, Community Food Security Coalition co-founders Andy Fisher and Bob Gottlieb were involved in a year-long study of the Los Angeles food system, entitled Seeds of Change: Strategies for Food Security for the Inner City.1 This study sparked interest among advocates in other communities in completing similar studies, and numerous requests to the Coalition for information and support. Thus, in 1999, the Coalition started offering workshops on how to do Community Food Assessments, and decided to develop a guidebook on the subject. This publication is our first attempt to systematically summarize information on how to do a Community Food Assessment. Reflecting the state of current knowledge of this emerging field, it is necessarily imperfect and incomplete.

We encourage readers to supplement this Guide with other material, including the Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit2, the resources listed in Appendix 6, and the reports from assessments highlighted in the cases in Chapter 3.

Intended audience

We envision the audience of this guidebook to be individuals and representatives of diverse organizations who are working on food issues in their communities, and who are interested in gathering information to highlight what is happening in their food system, and to encourage positive change. We expect that most readers are active in their communities, experienced with basic organizing approaches, and interested in working collaboratively with community residents and representatives of diverse agencies and organizations.

Authors and editors

This Guide was assembled through the work of several authors who joined the process and worked on it at different times since 1999. Andy Fisher conceived of and raised the funds for the project, and contributed to the writing. Hugh Joseph, initially charged with the project, fleshed out the idea, created the basic framework, and was responsible for much of the initial writing. Kami Pothukuchi, joining in 2002, worked with existing material, filled significant gaps, and developed much of the final content, collaborating with Kai Siedenburg on editorial decisions. Hannah Burton was responsible for obtaining and compiling the material on the case studies and related tables, and provided additional editorial assistance.

It is important to note that Kai Siedenburg and Kami Pothukuchi, the Guide’s editors, accept full and final responsibility for the Guide’s contents. In this Guide, the authorial “we” refers to these editors. Any questions on the contents of the Guide may be directed to us at the Community Food Security Coalition.


We are thankful to the following organizations for providing grants that made this project possible:

• University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program

• California Department of Health Services and the California Nutrition Network, with funding support from the National Food Stamp Program, US Department of Agriculture

• US Department of Agriculture, Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program



The editors wish to thank Paula Jones of the San Francisco Department of Public Health; Lisa Brawley of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY; and Duane Perry of The Food Trust in Philadelphia for reviewing an earlier draft of the Guide and providing very insightful and helpful comments. Tori Kjer also provided valuable comments on the draft, as well as capable assistance with compiling information. Val Echavarria provided skilled graphic design work, despite an extremely limited time frame and budget. Last but not least, we want to thank all the case study contacts for generously sharing their information and experiences and helping build a common knowledge base in this field.

  1. 1  Ashman, L., J. de la Vega, M. Dohan, A. Fisher, R. Hippler, and B. Romain. 1993. Seeds of Change: Strategies for Food Security for the Inner City. Los Angeles, CA: University of California in Los Angeles, Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. http://www.foodsecurity.org/pubs.html.
  2. 2  Cohen, B., L. Kantor, and M. Andrews. 2000. Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/ AboutERS/Sales/ (Date accessed: 25 Sept 2002).



Communities and Food

In communities across the nation, advocates and organizations are working hard to develop solutions to food system problems and create innovative models that meet community needs. They are providing nutritious food to the hungry, creating community-based food businesses, organizing food policy councils, developing com- munity gardens in inner-city neighborhoods, and linking consumers with local farmers through farmers’ mar- kets, along with many other initiatives. These efforts are necessarily diverse; they represent local solutions to local manifestations of larger problems. However, they often share common goals, such as making nutritious food more accessible, revitalizing and empowering communities, and supporting local and sustainable food production and distribution.

As advocates seek to address a range of interconnected food system problems, many find that building part- nerships and coordinating efforts is essential to developing effective and lasting solutions. They also find that gathering information about conditions in the food system and publicizing that information is valuable, both to help inform their own work to create positive change, as well as to build broader awareness of and support for their efforts. For these and other reasons, advocates across the country have become increasingly interested in Community Food Assessments.

This publication offers guidance and resources for conducting a Community Food Assessment. The following chapters define the elements of an assessment; provide selected examples of assessments that have been done; and outline the process for planning an assessment, conducting the research, and using the results to promote food system change.

This chapter briefly sets the context of our current food system; describes efforts underway to promote com- munity food security, and introduces Community Food Assessments as a tool for this work. It is organized in the following sections:

1. What’s Wrong With the Current Food System?
2. The Community Food Security Movement
3. Community Food Assessments as a Tool for Community Food Security 4. Overview of the Contents of This Guide

1. What’s Wrong With the Current Food System?

In recent years, our food systems have become truly global in scope and structure. In the United States, we import and export hundreds of billions of dollars worth of food every year. Supermarket shelves abound with a dazzling array of foods, with more and more fresh items available year round. In the period from 1980 through 2000, US per capita food consumption grew from about 1800 pounds per year to 2000 pounds per year.1 “What exactly is the problem?” an observer of this picture of the abundant and productive food system may be tempted to ask.

Yet, despite the apparent glut in our supermarkets, both urban and rural communities face numerous problems with respect to food production, distribution, and consumption. The following are only a few illustrations of the great cause for concern about current and future food security.


Millions of Americans are food insecure.

  • ◗  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports, based on a national Census Bureau survey, that in 1999, ten percent of all US households, representing 19 million adults and 12 million children, were “food insecure.” 2
  • ◗  Of these, five million adults and 2.7 million children suffered from food insecurity that was so severe that they were classified as “hungry.”
  • ◗  In a recent national survey of emergency food programs, America’s Second Harvest found that their net- work served 23 million people in a year (nine percent more than in 1997), including over nine million children.3

    Diet-related health problems are on the rise.

  • ◗  One-third of all cancer deaths are linked to diet, according to the National Cancer Institute.4
  • ◗  An estimated 300,000 deaths per year may be attributable to obesity.5
  • ◗  Just seven diet-related health conditions cost the United States $80 billion annually in medical costs and productivity losses, according to the latest Economic Research Service estimates.6
  • ◗  An estimated 76 million persons contract food-borne illnesses each year in the United States. The high incidence of food-borne diseases in children, especially infants, are a major concern.7

    The US food industry aggressively promotes unhealthy foods.8

  • ◗  The US food industry spent $7 billion in advertising in 1997. Most of this advertising focused on highly processed and packaged foods. Advertising for fruits, vegetables, and other healthful foods is negligible in comparison.
  • ◗  In 1997, food manufacturers accounted for almost two-thirds of food system advertising. Another 28 percent was covered by fast food outlets (up from about 5% in 1980).

    The food industry is becoming more concentrated.

  • ◗  A handful of huge multinational corporations control an increasing share of production, processing, and distribution of food products, squeezing out local and regional businesses.
  • ◗  Today, the top five firms account for 42% of retail sales, whereas in 1997, they accounted for only 24% of the market.9
  • ◗  Four companies control 84% of the US cereal market.10 The US farm sector is declining.
  • ◗  Thirty-two percent of the best quality farmland in the US has already irretrievably been lost to develop- ment; as much as 70% of the remaining prime farmland is threatened by sprawl.11
  • ◗  The number of farms has declined dramatically since its peak in 1935, dropping from 6.8 million in 1935 to only 1.9 million in 1997.12
  • ◗  Market forces have squeezed US farmers to the point that it is extremely difficult to make a living produc- ing food. In 1998 farmers earned an average of only $7,000 per year from their farming operations.13
  • ◗  The conventional food system has significant negative impacts on air, water, soil, and biodiversity.
  • ◗  The 1998 National Water Quality Inventory reports that agricultural non-point source pollution is the leading source of water quality impacts to surveyed rivers and lakes and a major contributor to contamina- tion of the ocean.14


  • ◗  Conventional agricultural production also pollutes the air and soil and damages wildlife habitat.
  • ◗  Long-distance transportation of food, now mostly by truck, creates air pollution and contributes to global


    Thus, despite appearances that our food supply is safe, abundant, and affordable, serious food–related problems affect most of the population, and there are grave threats to the long-term security and sustainability of the food system.

    2. The Community Food Security Movement

    The good news is that, as mentioned in the introduction, all across the country, people are working together to develop innovative solutions to the significant problems in our current food system. Many pioneering groups are working to develop ways to produce and distribute food that meet human needs, strengthen communities, and conserve natural resources. While most of these efforts are small-scale, they represent the seeds of creative and lasting solutions to food system problems.

    Many of these organizations and individuals are linking efforts under an umbrella that is called the communi- ty food security movement. Like this movement, the definition of community food security reflects many different voices and continues to evolve. The following definition captures many elements on which there is broad agreement.

    Community food security strives to link and integrate diverse fields, including community economic develop- ment, anti-hunger, social justice, local and sustainable agriculture, public health, nutrition, and environmen- talism. The movement encompasses a broad range of participants working on many different issues. While they may not agree on every issue, increasingly they are working toward similar goals:

  • ◗  To support access to food as a basic human right for all
  • ◗  To eliminate hunger and food insecurity
  • ◗  To build more local and regional food self-reliance, and thriving local economies
  • ◗  To create a more democratic food system that gives communities a greater role in deciding how their food is produced and distributed
  • ◗  To make the food system more equitable and socially just
  • ◗  To develop environmentally sustainable food production and distribution systems
  • ◗  To teach young people skills in food production and preparation, and to connect them to other communi- ty issues through food
  • ◗  To preserve and celebrate diverse cultures through food

    Conventional “food security” programs generally focus on the individual or household level of need, mostly as food assistance and social welfare programs. There is less emphasis on the infrastructure of food access, where the food comes from, how it is produced, or the effects of current food production and distribution. In con- trast, community food security advocates stress improved access to and availability of food at the community level; for example by advocating for more full-service food stores in low-income neighborhoods, and for direct links between local farms and consumers. Many also focus on increasing the availability of locally, organically, or sustainably produced food. They also consider the issue of who controls the food system, and support the right of local communities to have a say about how their food is produced and distributed.

Community food security is a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.15


In contrast to more traditional top-down or single-issue organizational strategies, community food security encourages integrated, community-focused strategies that emphasize the following elements:

◗ Progressive planning
• Getting at the underlying causes of problems and designing preventive approaches • Encouraging community-based visioning about the future of the food system

◗ Increased collaboration
• Bringing together a broad range of players to work together toward common goals • Transcending top-down or expert-based decision-making and program delivery

◗ Community responsiveness and ownership
• Taking the broad needs of the community into account in developing programs
• Expanding awareness and promoting a greater sense of ownership of food system issues
• Developing responses and strategies that are inclusive and that increase community access to information

◗ Multi-sectoral strategies

  • Incorporating diverse sectors of society in developing solutions and alternatives, including the private,

    public, and nonprofit sectors

  • Incorporatingsustainabledevelopmentstrategiesthatintegrateenvironment,publichealthandnutrition, urban economic development, and other quality of life needs

    The publisher of the Guide, the Community Food Security Coalition, plays an important role in building and supporting this growing movement. Founded in 1994 by advocates working on a range of food and farming issues, the Coalition has grown to a network of over 250 organizational members. The organization provides a broad range of training, networking, and advocacy programs that further the efforts of grassroots groups to cre- ate effective food system solutions from the ground up. For more information about the Coalition and its activ- ities, go to www.foodsecurity.org.

    3. Community Food Assessments as a Tool for Community Food Security

    As the work of those in the community food security movement continues to evolve, new approaches and strategies emerge. In recent years, there has been increased interest in strategies that go far beyond the level of a single project to involve a range of stakeholders in developing integrated approaches to a range of food and farming issues. These strategies include food policy councils, local and regional food marketing programs, and conducting systematic, community-focused studies of the food system through Community Food Assessments. Such integrated approaches offer exciting potential to develop broad-based, long-term solutions to persistent problems in the food system.

    The Community Food Assessment approach reflects many fundamental aspects of the community food securi- ty movement, and contributes to it in important ways. It is integrative, and takes a systems approach. It involves collaboration between diverse stakeholders. It is solution-oriented, looking at assets and resources as well as problems. Community food assessments promote community food security by increasing knowledge about food-related needs and resources, by building collaboration and capacity, by promoting long-term planning, and by facilitating a variety of change actions including policy advocacy and program development.

    By emphasizing participatory research that directly helps generate change actions, the Community Food Assessment approach distinguishes itself from more traditional research conducted by universities and private consultants. Community Food Assessments can be of, by, and for communities and their members. This participatory approach is consistent with the general emphasis in the community food security movement on promoting more community participation in and control of the food system.


Figure 1-1. Community Food Security Goals and Community Food Assessment

Neighborhood, city, or regional context

Food system activities

  • Production
  • Processing
  • Distribution
  • Consumption
  • Recycling of food system wastes

Promoting Community food security

Community Development Objectives • Preventing hunger

• Enhancing community health

• Strengthening local economy

• Revitalizing neighborhoods

• Conserving natural resources, protecting the environment

• Developing just, equitable social processes and outcomes

• Preserving cultural heritage • Etc., etc.

Strategies for community change

  • Mobilizing the community (organizing, coalition-building, collaboration)
  • Community Education and awareness
  • Policy and Legal Advocacy
  • Program Design and Development
  • Social Services Development

Community Food Assessment

Community & Food System Participants

  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits & community-based organizations & coalitions
  • Public agencies
  • Private firms

Figure 1-1 illustrates the connection between community food security goals and Community Food Assessment. An individual, community organization, public agency, or private sector organization could form a coalition to initiate the Community Food Assess- ment. Based on the information generated, actions could be devel- oped to affect particular community or food system activities directly, in order to improve com- munity food security. In this diagram, community food security stands at the intersection of food system activities and community goals such as preventing hunger, enhancing community health, conserving natural resources, and promoting social justice.


Movements do not necessarily need to conduct systematic community-based assessments to bring about significant change. However, the knowledge gained from such assessments can be a powerful resource for helping organizations to be more effective, to maintain momentum, to gain new allies, to build new knowledge and support in the community, and to bring about new policies and practices. Community Food Assessments can help achieve these objectives on community food system issues.

4. Overview of the Contents of This Guide

The Community Food Security Coalition has created this Guide to help readers learn about what Community Food Assessments are, how they are organized, and what benefits they can offer. We hope it will help you to decide whether an assessment is right for you, and help you to organize a successful assessment if you decide to initiate one.

Here is a chapter-by-chapter overview of contents of this Guide:

Chapter 1 provides context for the emerging field of Community Food Assessment through an overview of the state of the US food system and the community food security approach.

Chapter 2 defines Community Food Assessments, describes key elements of assessments, and outlines the potential benefits from conducting an assessment.

Chapter 3 includes brief case studies of nine Community Food Assessments from around the country, focusing on their goals, methods, collaborators, and outcomes.

Chapter 4 provides an overview of the process of planning and organizing an assessment, including recruiting collaborators, setting goals, identifying resources, and preparing for follow-up actions.

Chapter 5 delves into the specifics of the assessment research, providing guidance on developing research goals and questions, and selecting indicators and research methods.

Chapter 6 considers how to effectively put your assessment to work by disseminating the results and developing strategies and actions to create positive change in the community.







Jerardo, A. 2002 The Import Share of US Consumed-Food Continues to Rise. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ fau/july02/fau6601/fau6601.pdf. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Food Research and Action Center. 2000. New Data Show Persistent Hunger and Food Insecurity Among American Families. Washington, DC: Food Research and Action Center. http://www.frac.org/html/news/food- security99.html. (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).

America’sSecondHarvest.2001.HungerinAmerica.Chicago,IL:America’sSecondHarvest.http://www.hun- gerinamerica.org/. (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).

Doll, R. and R. Peto. 1981. The causes of cancer: Quantitative estimates of avoidable risks of cancer in the United States today. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 66: 1191-1308. http://rex.nci.nih.gov/ NCI_Pub_Interface/raterisk/risks73.html. (Date accessed: 27 Aug 2002).

Allison, D. B., K. R. Fontaine, J. E. Manson, J. Stevens, and T. B. VanItallie. 1999. Annual deaths attributable to obesity in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association, 282(16): 1530-8.

USDA Economic Research Service. “Diet and Health: Overview.” Washington, DC: USDA Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/DietAndHealth/. (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).


7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Foodborne Illnesses—Selected Sites, United States, 2001.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ mm5115a3.htm. (Date accessed: 27 Aug 2002).

  1. 8  Gallo, A. 1999. “Food Advertising in the United States.” In Frazao, E. (ed.), America’s Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences. USDA Economic Research Service. Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 750: 173. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib750/. (Date accessed 29 August 2002).
  2. 9  Hendrickson, M., W. D. Heffernan, P. H. Howard, and J. B. Heffernan. 2001. Consolidation in Food Retailing and Dairy: Implications for farmers and consumers in a global food system. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri. http://www.competitivemarkets.com/library/academic/heffernan.pdf. (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).
  3. 10  Krebs, A. V. 1994. “Cargill: Dredging Up the Profits.” The AgBiz Tiller. 4 March, 1994. http://www.ea1.com/ CARP/tiller/archives/backlog.htm. (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).
  4. 11  Biodiversity Project. 2000. Getting on Message: Making the Biodiversity-Sprawl Connection. Madison, WI: Biodiversity Project. http://www.biodiversityproject.org/mediakit/ Sprawl_1B_farmland_loss.pdf (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).
  5. 12  USDA Economic Research Service. “Farm Structure: Questions and Answers.” Washington, DC: USDA Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/FarmStructure/Questions/farmstruct.htm. (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).
  6. 13  USDA Economic Research Service. 2000. “Farm Income.” Agricultural Outlook. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/agout- look/may2000/ao271.pdf. (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).
  7. 14  United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. 2000. The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters: A Summary of the National Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to Congress. Washington, DC: US EPA, Office of Water. http://www.epa.gov/305b/98report/ (Date accessed: 29 Aug 2002).
  8. 15  Hamm, M. and A. Bellows. 2002, in press. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.




Defining Community Food Assessment: Elements and Purposes

Chapter 1 introduced Community Food Assessments as a tool for groups to highlight and take action on the many connections between their communities and the food system. These assessments enable groups to systematically explore a wide range of food-related issues, and to build momentum and support for positive changes in their communities.

Community Food Assessment integrates activities in community organizing, planning, research, and implementing change actions. It is a relatively new approach and still lacks well-established definitions and practices. So far, it has been defined primarily by what has been done in the field by pioneering organizers. These assessments have varied greatly in their scale, methods, and level of community involvement. Various terms have been used to describe them, including: community food security assessment, food security assessment, and food system assessment.

The editors of this Guide use the term Community Food Assessment for two reasons: first, to allow flexibility for an assessment to focus on a range of food-related issues and goals; and second to emphasize the focus on the community level and on community participation in conducting the assessment. We have developed the following definition for this term.

This chapter explores what a Community Food Assessment is, and the potential benefits of conducting an assessment. It is divided into two major sections:

1. Key Elements of a Community Food Assessment 2. Why Do a Community Food Assessment?

1. Key Elements of a Community Food Assessment

Community Food Assessment is not a distinct field of study with its own methods, concepts, and issues. It builds on other kinds of assessments, including those from the fields of community planning (asset mapping), social work (needs assessment), public health (nutrition assessment), environmental studies (environmental assessment), and international development (participatory rural assessment). This mix of frameworks and methods can make the Community Food Assessment process seem difficult to pin down, but they also give it flexibility and strength.

In doing program planning or evaluation, you may have completed a needs assessment. The needs assessment is designed to describe conditions, identify problems and desired improvements, and to develop strategies to address them. It is an important and popular category of assessment, and many Community Food Assessments include one. However, Community Food Assessments also seek to overcome some of the typical limitations of needs assessments:

  • ◗  Needs assessments usually focus on a community’s problems rather than its assets. This tends to lead to programs that focus on bringing in outside experts and resources, rather than building from a community’s existing assets.
  • ◗  Programmatic needs assessments generally address pre-defined needs through the continuation, expansion, or modification of existing approaches. They tend to reinforce existing relationships and structures, rather

A Community Food Assessment is a collaborative and participatory process that systematically exam- ines a broad range of community food issues and assets, so as to inform change actions to make the community more food secure.


than considering broader or more fundamental solutions.

◗ Organizational needs assessments also tend to be top-down, reflecting the existing management structure. They generally do not include broad participation in decision-making by staff, clients, and community interests. In fact, outside consultants sometimes contribute significantly more to the process than do many people who are part of the organization.

A Community Food Assessment is a flexible and multi-faceted approach that has been applied in many different ways, as the case studies in Chapter 3 illustrate. Still, there are some key elements that characterize most Community Food Assessments that take an approach similar to that promoted in this Guide, which calls for exploring a range of food system issues, involving significant community participation, and focusing on creating positive change. The following elements are both descriptive and prescriptive. They are descriptive in that they are based on the case studies profiled here, and prescriptive in that they emphasize qualities that we believe will help make future assessments effective.

Key elements of a Community Food Assessment

  1. A Community Food Assessment examines a range of food issues, and the links between these issues and community goals.

    Conducting an assessment is a way to explore and understand the many ways that food is connected (or not) to your community, and their implications for quality of life, food security, social justice, and other community values. It helps you examine the various ways community members participate in the food system, how it impacts their lives, and how well they are served by it. An assessment helps promote broader dialogue about how to develop a food system that will reflect shared values and meet community goals and needs.

    Community Food Assessments also help highlight the connections between various kinds of food system activities, such as production, processing, distribution, and consumption. These linkages are often the areas in which new programs, policies, and innovations emerge, and understanding these linkages helps inform changes that are systemic and long-lasting. Assessments should therefore examine more than one issue or sector of the food system—not just hunger or the plight of family farmers, but multiple issues or sectors and the linkages between them.

    In addition to highlighting specific needs and resources, an assessment can promote understanding of the broader context in which they exist. Individual programs can be examined in the context of social, economic, and environmental systems that operate not just at the local level, but regionally, nationally, and internationally. For example, the vast majority of the food consumed in most communities comes from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. The availability and quality of this food is driven by complex forces and processes operating from the community to the global levels. By promoting understanding of these contexts and how they affect the community, an assessment can help that community gain greater participation in or control over its food system.

  2. A Community Food Assessment is designed to inform and build support for practical actions to enhance community food security.

    A Community Food Assessment is a practical tool with practical applications, to develop recommendations and support for concrete actions to improve the food system and enhance community food security. This is different from more conventional research conducted in universities or private firms, in which there are few direct links to specific actions. Actions supported by assessments may be targeted at public policy agencies, private firms, civil society organizations, or the community at large. You may need to consider these potential targets carefully when designing your assessment process and its products.

    Community Food Assessments work best when the research planning and action planning are conducted by the same set of actors and in an integrated way. It is important to plan ahead for an implementation or follow-up phase, including raising funds for this phase well before the report is released.


3. A Community Food Assessment is a planned and systematic process of gathering information about and analyzing community food issues.

The scope of possible questions and research in an assessment is so broad that it takes some thoughtful planning to clearly define the research goals and questions and to plan the process. This requires having clear overall goals for the assessment and follow-up actions. The research process generally involves a blend of collecting information from scratch and compiling information that already exists through previous research or other published material.

For the assessment findings to be credible and persuasive, it is important that the research methods are reasonable and appropriate, and defensible against charges of bias. It is important to design your research so that the findings are not biased by your expectations, and to allow the emergence of new and unexpected information. Chapters 4 and 5 detail the assessment planning and the research processes.

4. A Community Food Assessment addresses both needs and assets.

Community food security work is grounded in an asset-based approach to community development. This is in contrast with the conventional need- or problem-based approaches that typically drive policies and services in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Community Food Assessment is an integral component of such an asset-based approach, as it identifies local resources that can be used to increase food self-reliance and to build other community capacities.

In general, three main rationales support an asset-based approach to Community Food Assessment.

  • It is more effective. By building on existing resources, it avoids unnecessary duplication and uses limited funds and resources more effectively.
  • It is a more positive and respectful. It is based on the concept that even the most impoverished organizations and individuals are agents and resources for themselves and their communities. It recognizes the right and capacity of all people to have a say in decisions that affect them.
  • It is more sustainable. Because it taps into a community’s experience and culture, it can be absorbed into these experiences and become a resource for addressing future issues. Its emphasis on building local capacity and social capital, rather than simply gathering data about community needs or problems, also enhances its sustainability.

Implications of an asset-based approach to Community Food Assessment:

The planning process should involve groups and individuals in low-income and minority communities in decisions about the assessment goals and process. For example, these communities could be represented in the assessment team, while community meetings could be held to invite broader input. This helps ensure that the assessment is broadly representative of the concerns and resources in the community.

The research should include compiling inventories of relevant community assets and resources. For example, an ethnic minority community that is concerned about the influx of fast food and the loss of traditional cultural practices might want to inventory plants that are part of traditional diets; compile traditional recipes; and include oral histories from local elders about other cultural practices related to food.

The research activities can be designed to involve participants from the community. For example, young people could be trained to interview seniors about food access issues and coping strategies. This would have multiple benefits, including building intergenerational ties, developing youth capacities, and encouraging youth involvement in community concerns.

Community members and resources need to be part of the assessment follow-up actions. For example, in a program to encourage more nutritious diets in an African-American community, people who are part of and trusted by that community would likely be more effective at conducting outreach.


5. A Community Food Assessment focuses on a geographically defined place.

As discussed in Chapter 1, numerous efforts are underway to promote community food security and to build local food systems that provide viable alternatives to the current global food system. Place is central to these efforts because it links people, culture, and resources. Assessments usually focus on a geographically defined place, from a neighborhood to a city to a larger region. Identifying such a place-based community also provides practical benefits: it outlines the scope of the project and makes it manageable, as well as providing a clear link to various stakeholders and their activities. It also has implications for decision-making and follow-up actions, as policies and programs usually are developed for geographically defined areas.

All Community Food Assessments will need to identify geographic boundaries that are relevant for their research questions and for the follow-up actions to be supported by the assessment. They can include different geographic areas for different types of research (for example, the Madison Food System Project profiled in Chapter 3 did some Dane county analyses, some Madison city analyses, and then focused on one low-income area of the city).

6. A Community Food Assessment involves a broad spectrum of actors from the community.

Both communities and food systems are complex and multi-faceted, with expertise related to different aspects of each spread out among various disciplines, individuals, and organizations. It is valuable to cast a wide net in identifying potential collaborators, to include individuals, organizations, and coalitions from the private, non-profit, and public sectors. Stakeholders not traditionally associated with food or agriculture- related activities, such as local government and community development corporations, can be valuable partners.

Direct participation by community residents, especially from those groups whose situation the assessment is seeking to improve, is extremely important. Agency representatives and other organizational professionals, for all their strengths, usually are limited in their ability to address all community interests. Community res- idents can contribute valuable knowledge, skills, and perspectives. Their participation helps foster trust, community links, and shared ownership of the process and outcomes. Thus, the assessment can help increase community participation in addressing local issues, and contribute to empowerment of tradi- tionally disenfranchised constituencies. (See Chapter 4 for more on recruiting participants and community involvement.)

Case Study

Foundations Government Universities, Non-Profit Agencies Institutes, Organizations

Education Centers

Types of Organizations Participating in Case Studies


Los Angeles
Madison/Dane County
The North Country
San Francisco
Totals: 3 18 15 42 10 8

This information was derived from surveys completed by case study contacts.

Austin 1 1 1

Berkeley 1 1 9



1 1


1 1 1 5 8 3 1



12 1 3

5 2

18 1 2 1 5


“Community” can be defined in a variety of ways. In gen- eral, community as used here is defined by place, or by relationships among people based on their identity, social situation, or interests and values. We use “community par- ticipation” to refer to participation by residents represent- ing grassroots issues and interests, often including disen- franchised groups. This is in contrast to participants who represent an organization or institution and participate in the assessment as part of their regular paid work. Of course, this distinction is not always clear-cut.

  1. A Community Food Assessment emphasizes collabo- ration among participants.

    Community Food Assessment is based on a collaborative approach, with participants working as a team to make decisions and implement actions. Such a collaborative approach can be more challenging and time-consuming than a top-down approach, but it also can convey impor- tant and long-lasting benefits. It brings in a range of per- spectives that help ensure that the assessment reflects the community and is appropriately broad and integrated in its scope. It pools expertise, contacts, and resources from a variety of sources. It also helps build ownership of and accountability to the process, and thereby builds broader support for the assessment and its recommendations. Collaboration also builds new relationships that will be valuable to participants in their work, as well as giving them a chance to develop their skills in working with a diverse group. And last but certainly not least, collabora- tion builds a foundation for effective actions to create long-term change in the community.

    In practical terms, participants will vary in the amount of time and resources they can commit to an assessment. Thus, most assessments develop a clearly-defined core group that takes on additional responsibilities not held by all team members.

  2. A Community Food Assessment requires significant time and resources to plan and implement.

    There is no set time frame for an assessment; depending on the scale or scope, it could take just a few months or two or more years to complete. Assessments do need to be completed in a reasonable time frame to inform and support actions and to maintain group participation and momentum. Some assessments may need to be completed more quickly to inform a pending decision or to help implement an urgently needed program. Follow-up actions also may take significant time to implement.

    A Community Food Assessment also requires substantial resources, to bring people together, encourage com- munity participation, design and implement the research, disseminate the results, and organize follow-up actions. If it is small in scope, an assessment can be done with very few resources, but many may ultimately require tens of thousands of dollars to complete. Most assessments rely on substantial in-kind resources, and many start with limited funding and raise additional funds as they move forward. The key is designing your assessment to match the resources that will be available. (See Chapter 4 for more informa- tion on funding and resources for an assessment.)

Elements of a Quality Assessment

Community Food Assessments vary greatly in their scope, form, and outcomes, so success- ful assessments may differ from each other in many ways. The following are broadly-defined elements of a quality assessment:

  • ◗  It examines a range of food system issues, and the connections between food and community goals.
  • ◗  It involves a broad range of actors from
    the community, including individuals and organizations, and the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
  • ◗  It involves community residents in signifi- cant and meaningful ways, and builds community capacity for future actions.
  • ◗  It uses participatory and collaborative processes that generate results, build new partnerships, and leave participants feeling satisfied with the process.
  • ◗  It focuses on community food assets as well as problems.
  • ◗  The research is rigorous, and the methods used are consistent with the overall goals of the assessment.
  • ◗  It makes effective use of cash and in-kind resources available, and is completed in a reasonable time-frame.
  • ◗  It fosters broader awareness and understand- ing of the community and its food system.
  • ◗  It contributes to tangible actions to bring about positive change in the community’s food system.


2. Why Do a Community Food Assessment?

Many activists working to improve their community’s food system may be reluctant to conduct a Community Food Assessment. They may feel like they already know what is happening in their community, and that they do not need to do a study to reinforce that knowledge. They may be reluctant to take on what seems to be a cumbersome research process, when so many studies have wound up collecting dust while the problems they examined worsened. They would rather roll up their sleeves and work for practical improvements and solu- tions.

These concerns are certainly understandable, and Community Food Assessments are not right for every situa- tion. Yet they can be a powerful tool for activists seeking to create lasting change. The information gathered can lead to more strategic and effective action, and can highlight issues and build broader support and pressure for change. And a Community Food Assessment is much more than an information-gathering process. It also is an organizing and planning process that involves coalition building, priority setting, advocacy, and developing capacities in the community. All these processes can generate multiple benefits, such as more community involvement, increased collaboration, and better integration between programs. Ultimately, an assessment can lead to important changes in the community’s food system, such as better food access for low-income people, local economic development, and improved public health.

Possible Benefits of Community Food Assessments

◗ Improved program development and coordination
◗ Positive changes in public policy affecting the food system
◗ Broader awareness and understanding of food-related issues
◗ Development of new and stronger networks and coalitions
◗ Increased community participation in shaping the food system ◗ Greater community capacity to create positive change

Community Food Assessments can provide a range of benefits that make them well worth the effort. Some of these benefits are accrued to participants through the process of planning, implementing, and using an assess- ment. These are called process benefits and are valuable to building various skills, shared understandings, confidence, and a sense of ownership. Outcome benefits are more tangible products or changes in the larger community that result from the assessment. These could include reports, media coverage, and policies or programs created in response to the assessment.

Outcome Benefits

Community Food Assessments generate valuable information that allows participants to better understand the well-being of community residents, and their needs and resources related to access to nutritious, affordable food. While assessment participants will likely already have a good understanding of local issues, gathering and analyzing more detailed information on local conditions can be extremely valuable. This information can increase awareness and understanding of local food system issues, and inform the development of more appropriate strategies to address these issues. Such strategies can include program development, policy advocacy, and public education.

1. Program development

Assessments can be a valuable tool in program design, development, and improvement. They can provide a more complete picture of how individuals interact with their food system, the needs and resources available, and the potential for building or improving linkages between community organizations and other insti-


tutions. By doing so, assessments can inform the improvement of existing programs, increase coordination between programs, or give rise to creation of new programs or policies.

Assessments often result in more comprehensive and integrated approaches to addressing the community’s food needs. The food system focus and collaborative nature of the assessment process make it possible for participants to develop programs outside their usual institutional parameters to address the broader needs of the community. The assessment process can allow for integrating multiple perspectives, fostering inno- vative approaches, and developing more sustainable projects by leveraging resources and commitments from diverse interests. This integrated approach can in turn give rise to strategies to address complex issues such as: dealing with the links between poverty, hunger, food access, and diet-related diseases; and addressing the long-term sustainability of the mainstream food system.

For example, the Seeds of Change study documented the trouble low-income community residents in Los Angeles had with access to affordable, nutritious food. It highlighted the importance of community-based programs such as farmers’ markets in addressing this problem. As a result, the study’s client, the Interfaith Hunger Coalition, which previously had been focused on federal food programs, decided to dedicate staff to create new community gardens and farmers’ markets as part of its AmeriCorps program. Similarly, the food assessment study in Milwaukee led the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee, a food bank and anti-hunger agency, into the economic development realm through sponsoring the Fondy Food Center, a market and kitchen incubator project.

2. Policy advocacy

Governments at all levels make decisions that profoundly shape the way food is produced, distributed, accessed, and consumed. (See Getting Food on the Table: An Action Guide to Local Food Policy1, for a fuller description of the role of local policy and opportunities to shape it.) Changing public policy is an important goal of many assessments.

Assessment reports can be an important tool in the policy advocacy process. Reports provide documentation and publicity for conditions that may be well known to advocates and community members, but unrecognized by government officials and other decision-makers. They can provide compelling evidence of community needs, clearly articulate policy opportunities to promote community food security, and help mobilize the community to advocate for policy change. The role of the assessment report in policy advocacy can be greatly strengthened by effective publicity and media outreach.

Austin’s Sustainable Food Center published the results of their food access study in a report titled Access Denied: An Analysis of Problems Facing East Austin Residents in Their Attempts to Obtain Affordable, Nutritious Food.2 One of their key recommendations, which was implemented by local government, was to create a food policy council to address local issues. One of the first actions of this council was to recommend a new bus line directly connecting low income neighborhoods and supermarkets in outlying neighborhoods. They collaborated with the local transit authority to establish it, and the “Grocery Bus” soon became quite popular with transit-dependent residents in East Austin.

3. Visibility and awareness

Community Food Assessments offer an opportunity to raise awareness of food system problems and oppor- tunities, which is key to building support for long-term change. As noted above, assessments can raise the profile of issues that have not received adequate attention from policy makers, businesses, media, and others. The information gathered, the needs identified, the solutions proposed, and sometimes even the process itself can all provide good opportunities for media coverage. Assessments also can provide visibility for participants and sponsors and their ongoing work, helping them gain additional support, funding, and legitimacy.


Media exposure of issues and programs is useful for educating the community and building greater under- standing of local concerns and assets. It also is important in policy advocacy efforts, as policy makers often pay close attention to compelling media stories. For example, the Seeds of Change study in Los Angeles gained significant media coverage in the form of a front-page article and an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, as well as numerous radio and television news stories. This media attention was instrumental in pressuring policy makers to develop a hunger policy for the city.

Process Benefits

In addition to practical outcomes generated by an assessment, the process itself also can provide important benefits to participants. It can help them develop new skills and capacities, as well as new contacts and partnerships. These benefits can enhance participants’ work beyond the scope and duration of the assessment, and in turn lead to additional outcomes. Such process benefits are one of the ways Community Food Assessment is different from a more conventional top-down research process. Some types of process benefits are summarized below.

  1. Development of networks and coalitions

    Community Food Assessments are collaborative efforts, typically involving participation by many stake- holders. They facilitate new and improved working relationships, which can in turn provide new resources and support to participants. They may lead to better coordination of existing efforts, collaboration on specific projects, or valuable political support. Assessments also provide an opportunity for participants to strengthen their skills in collaborating with diverse partners, which increases their capacity to work together to create change.

    After the study is completed, assessment partners may choose to form a coalition or collaboration to pursue implementation of the report’s recommendations. For example, the assessment process in Madison, Wisconsin, helped bring together an advisory group of community food stakeholders, many of whom had never worked in such a wide-ranging group before. As a result of this participation, this informal network coalesced (with new members) into the Madison-Dane County food policy council. Even if an ongoing coali- tion is not formed, it is likely that the assessment will lead to partnerships that continue beyond the dura- tion of the assessment.

  2. Community participation and collaboration

    Because everyone eats, everyone is a food system stakeholder with some knowledge about community food issues. The Community Food Assessment process provides an opportunity to promote broad representation of residents and other stakeholders (including the disenfranchised) in determining priorities, rather than leaving most decision-making to business owners, politicians, and others in positions of power. Thus, assessments can help mobilize and empower residents to take charge of their food system.

    Community members can play key roles in overall planning, recruiting participants, gathering information, identifying and prioritizing needs, and choosing and implementing follow-up actions. They can help ensure that the assessment is accountable to residents’ needs and concerns, and that the changes resulting from it are effective and long-lasting.

    Collaboration among community residents and professionals helps build shared understanding and trust, and can serve as a resource to create many kinds of actions in the community. For example, the Detroit Food Security Council planning process brought together resident leaders of the Gratiot-McDougall neighborhood and professionals in nutrition, anti-hunger, community economic development, and urban planning. This collaboration led to joint efforts to write grant proposals to bring food-related community development into the neighborhood. (See Chapter 4 for more information on community participation in assessments.)

  3. Capacity development

    A Community Food Assessment can provide informal training to its participants in a variety of areas, including planning, process facilitation, research, analytical, and implementation skills. Many of these skills


will likely prove useful in other areas of their work. Building such individual capacities helps develop organizational capacities, which in turn increases the community’s potential to create positive change.

Assessments have helped people leading them to develop expertise in areas besides those in which they were trained or had experience. For example, participating in an assessment has helped nutritionists speak to food access issues more effectively; community organizers to advocate for improved food policies; and gradu- ate students learn to facilitate meetings.

When a Community Food Assessment may not be right for you

A Community Food Assessment is a valuable and flexible tool, but it will not be right for every community or situation. For example, if your group needs to respond to an urgent issue such as the pending closure of your local supermarket, then you may not have the time to conduct a Community Food Assessment. In this case, organizing your community and pressuring local officials to take action would be more appropriate.

Similarly, your situation may call for particular kinds of research that are different from a Community Food Assessment. For example, your organization may have an opportunity to influence the content of meals in local school cafeterias. You may want to commission an independent, scientific analysis of the nutritional content of the meals without taking the time to organize a participatory process or evaluate other contextual issues.

Finally, if your community has few organizations working on local food issues, then you may want to under- take an assessment yourself, rather than organizing a broader, collaborative process. You may want to use the results of your assessment to recruit others and develop broader collaboration.


In this chapter, we defined Community Food Assessment and described its key elements. We outlined some of the possible purposes for an assessment, and the direct and indirect benefits that can result from an assessment. We hope that this and future chapters will help your group decide whether a Community Food Assessment is right for you, and help guide you through the process if you decide to go ahead.

  1. 1  Biehler, D., A. Fisher, K. Siedenburg, M. Winne, and J. Zachary. 1999. Getting Food on the Table: An Action Guide to Local Food Policy. Los Angeles, CA: Community Food Security Coalition and California Sustainable Working Group. http://www.foodsecurity.org/pubs.html.
  2. 2  Sustainable FoodCenter. 2001. Access Denied: An Analysis of Problems Facing East Austin Residents in Their Attempts to Obtain Affordable, Nutritious Food. 2001. Austin, TX: Sustainable Food Center and Austin Community Gardens. http://www. main.org/sfc/access_denied/. (Date accessed: 3 Sept 2002).




Community Food Assessment

Case Studies

1. Introduction

This chapter highlights examples of Community Food Assessments conducted in nine communities nationwide between 1992 and 2001. Each case study briefly describes the background, goals, actors, process, resources, and outcomes for that assessment. These cases illustrate some of the different ways that groups have shaped assessments to address local concerns and resources, and provide a sense of the flexibility and power of the Community Food Assessment approach for understanding and acting on local food issues.

For simplicity, we have applied the term Community Food Assessments to this collection of case studies, but the groups who implemented them have taken various approaches and used different terms to describe their assessments. The overall approach to Community Food Assessment conveyed in this Guide is generally informed by the work of the case study groups, but it is not based on one particular model. Although the cases include most of the elements of an assessment presented in Chapter 2, not all of them include all these elements. For example, the case studies involve varying degrees of community participation in the planning and implementation of the assessment, while this Guide encourages an approach that integrates substantial community participation.

Community Food Assessment is a relatively new field, and the approach is still being developed. We present these case studies not with the idea that they are perfect models to be replicated. Rather, we present them as examples of valuable and pioneering work, with the understanding that it is important for us to learn from each others’ experiences, especially in a young field like Community Food Assessment. We encourage you to share the stories and lessons from your assessment, to continue this learning process.

Communities Addressed by Case Studies

Case Study

Austin Berkeley


Los Angeles Madison/Dane County

The North Country
San Francisco
This information was derived from surveys completed by case study contacts.

Assessment Area

East Austin, Texas
West and South Berkeley, California

City of Detroit; Southeastern Michigan region (six counties); and Michigan at large

South Central Los Angeles, California
City of Madison, Wisconsin, and Surrounding Area

Population of Study Area

East Austin: 24,000

West and South Berkeley: approximately 35,000

Detroit: 970,000

South Central LA: 53,000

City of Madison: 207,000; County: 400,000

Milwaukee: 959,275

Six-county area: approximately 431,000

Bayview Hunters Point: 34,000 Somerville: 77,500

Near-north and near-south sides of the city
of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Milwaukee County

Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, and Essex Counties of New York state

Southeast San Francisco, California— Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood

Somerville, Massachusetts


In this chapter and elsewhere, tables and charts with summary information derived from these case studies are included. These tables provide an overview of the communities, participants, funding sources, and research questions for these assessments. We developed these tables based on information provided by case study contacts. They are meant to be illustrative, rather than an exhaustive representation of each assessment’s characteristics.

2. Community Food Assessment Case Studies

Access Denied: An Analysis of Food Access in East Austin

East Austin is an inner-city community of about 24,000 people, primarily Hispanic and African-American. The area covers about six square miles, and encompasses strong neighborhoods and well-established minority- owned businesses. However, poverty and diet-related diseases are widespread.

In 1994, the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) initiated a study of food access in East Austin, with the goals of raising awareness and forming a food policy council to help address food access issues. SFC is a non-profit organization that works to develop sustainable food systems through local, state, and national initiatives. The study was planned and implemented over a period of eight months by SFC’s then-Director, Kate Fitzgerald, and VISTA volunteer Jon Schragg with the support of the SFC board of directors. The Eastside Advisory Board, a group of community stakeholders, also provided project guidance.

Key project expenses included staff time and printing for the report. SFC paid for the study through their core funds, plus federal government support for the VISTA volunteer’s salary. SFC requested donations to help cover printing costs for the report.

Extensive community input was gathered through interviews with over 200 residents. The SFC staff were both bilingual and lived in the neighborhood, and they made it a high priority to gather information in ways that would build trust and yield meaningful responses. They conducted extensive community outreach designed to engage residents in settings in which the residents felt comfortable. The staff worked through trusted community leaders who would introduce them and encourage community members to talk to them. (Of all the people they asked to help in this way, everyone agreed.) Outreach was conducted at churches, health clinics, elementary schools, public housing, neighborhood associations, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, restaurants, bus stops, and by going door to door.

In these interviews, SFC staff focused on engaging community members in a conversation to identify their con- cerns about the local food system, and recorded notes afterward. SFC staff felt that these informal conversations conducted by local residents were more effective at soliciting honest responses than a survey administered by an outsider would have been.

In addition to these interviews, the project also analyzed census data and conducted detailed surveys at neigh- borhood grocery and convenience stores. The researchers compared selection and prices in East Austin with stores outside the neighborhood. Like similar studies in other cities, these surveys demonstrated that low- income East Austin residents generally paid higher prices and had a narrower selection of groceries available than people in other parts of the city.

The Austin study was conducted with modest resources by people who had a solid base in the community, and using methods that were sensitive to the community context. They successfully built on these strengths to create an accurate and compelling picture of food access that generated impressive outcomes.

The assessment results were published in a 1995 report titled Access Denied: An Analysis of Problems Facing East Austin Residents in Their Attempts to Obtain Affordable, Nutritious Food1. The report proposed that a food policy council be established to address these problems, and recommended practical solutions for improving food access in East Austin. About 2,000 copies were distributed.


Case Study

Austin Berkeley

Los Angeles

Madison/ Dane County


The North Country

San Francisco


Sponsoring Organizations for Case Studies

Sponsoring Organizations

– Sustainable Food Center

– San Francisco State University
– Northern California Food Systems Alliance

– Department of Urban Planning, Wayne State University – Hunger Action Coalition of Michigan

– Department of Urban Planning, University of California Los Angeles – The Southern California Interfaith Hunger Coalition

– Madison Food System Project
– Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Wisconsin-Madison

– Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee
– Center for Urban Initiatives and Research, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – Wisconsin Food System Partnership

– Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University – The New York State Department of the State

– New York State Community Action Association – Cornell Cooperative Extension

– San Francisco Department of Public Health – San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners – Literacy for Environmental Justice

– Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University – Massachusetts Health Research Institute

This information was derived from surveys completed by case study contacts.

Other outcomes include:
◗ A new bus route that provided transportation from the Eastside to the two biggest supermarkets
◗ Legislation that allows state land to be used free of charge for community gardens or farmers’ markets ◗ Complete renovation of a grocery store in the neighborhood.
◗ Increased awareness about food access
◗ Establishment of a food policy council with in-kind support from the city and county

For more information, contact:

Sustainable Food Center PO Box 13323
Austin, TX 78711 512-236-0074

Copies of the assessment report are available from:



Berkeley Community Food Assessment

The city of Berkeley is located just a few hours’ drive from the heart of California’s legendary agricultural sector. Yet Berkeley residents are subject to some of the same challenges faced by municipalities across the country— inadequate retail service in poorer neighborhoods, a financially struggling school food system, and food “education” dominated by TV ads. At the same time, Berkeley is home to exciting pilot initiatives to foster sustainability, nutritional health, and equity in the food system.

Between 1998 and 2001, members of the Northern California Food Systems Alliance and faculty from San Francisco State University came together with a committed group of community organizations to take fresh look at how to link local farmers and urban consumers. They wrote a report that chronicles and analyzes Berkeley’s efforts to build a healthy and equitable food system, titled Good Farming, Healthy Communities: Strengthening Sustainable Agriculture Sectors and Local Food Systems2.

The report focused on five sectors of the Berkeley food system in which organizations were working to create change, and identified the kinds of projects these organizations were pursuing (in parentheses):

  1. The food production sector (cooperative ownership, marketing strategies for family farms, and land trusts)
  2. The retail food sector (direct marketing, inner-city greening projects, neighborhood markets)
  3. Urban agriculture (mini-farms, community gardens, agricultural research)
  4. The role of educational institutions (farm-to-school, community nutrition education, and community- driven urban agricultural research)
  5. Public policy (advisory groups, public health, coalitions between green space and housing advocates)

The major sponsors of the project were the Northern California Food Systems Alliance, the San Francisco Foundation, and San Francisco State University. The principal leadership came from Raquel Pinderhughes, a professor at the university, with graduate student research assistance. The project was closely tied to community- based organizations such as the Ecology Center, the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, the Berkeley Food Policy Council, and Berkeley Youth Alternatives. Five members from participating organizations formed a Community Advisory Board, which served as the steering committee for the project. Researchers working on the project and the Community Advisory Board held regular meetings and strategy sessions.

Community activists and residents were integral to the project. Community participation was generated through information sharing between local councils, neighborhood projects, and non-profit organizations at meetings and through involvement in project activities. Local high school students were trained in data collection. Further community input came from interviews and surveys of business owners, school children, farmers, market coordinators, and emergency food system staff.

The direct funding for the assessment consisted of two grants of $25,000 each, from the San Francisco Foundation and California Urban Environmental Research and Action Center. In-kind donations were valued at $100,000 and included the lead investigator’s time, the research work of university students, the voluntary efforts of Community Advisory Board members, and additional guidance from other members of the community.

In addition to the above-mentioned report, outcomes from the Berkeley Community Food Assessment include:

  • Formalized collaboration between the Berkeley Food Policy Council, farmers’ markets, community-based organizations, and the Berkeley Youth Alternatives project
  • Linkages between local growers and Berkeley school cafeterias
  • Survey instruments provided for inclusion in the Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit3 recently published by USDA


For more information, contact:

Josh Miner
Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley 510-643-0541

Copies of the assessment report are not available at this writing.

The Detroit Food System Assessment

Detroit is home to many individuals and organizations working in low-income communities to increase access to fresh, nutritious, and culturally appropriate choices in food. However, when this study began in the late 1990s, these were disparate efforts without common goals, a broadly shared knowledge base, or a conceptual framework for action. Wayne State University Professor Kami Pothukuchi initiated the Detroit Food System Assessment to bring community food security concepts and systematic research into a community-based discussion that was already underway. The form of the assessment was shaped by discussions with representatives from the Hunger Action Coalition and other organizations that participated in the planning process to create the Detroit Food Security Council, but it was completed almost entirely within the university.

The goals of the assessment were to:

1. Develop a handbook of basic information about Detroit’s food system to support actions and policies that foster community food security

2. Demonstrate how university faculty could partner with community members to conduct research on local issues

Wayne State University provided cash and in-kind support by funding Kami Pothukuchi’s time and a student assistant to work on the study over two summers. Although community organizations were supportive, their efforts were not yet developed to the level of raising funds for systematic assessment work. Hence the assessment progressed more slowly than some others, developing over multiple cycles of initial assessment, community presentations of findings, discussion of further research questions, and additional research. Community partners played key roles in brainstorming research questions, identifying data sources, network- ing with key informants, helping build support for the assessment, and planning for program development based on the assessment’s findings.

The initial assessment (conducted in 1999) was organized into sections based on links between food and the community goals of health, community economic development, and neighborhood revitalization. Initial pre- sentations were made in community forums to provide an overview of basic statistics, and a more detailed assessment program emerged from the ensuing discussions. The report expanded to include sections on hunger and food insecurity, regional farmland, and small pilot studies that would provide more qualitative glimpses of the area’s food system. For example, one pilot study examined the availability of a healthy basket of food in stores in an especially underserved neighborhood, while another documented the benefits of a youth nutrition garden in a Latino neighborhood.

The assessment was not the product of a systematic planning process of one organization or coalition; instead it emerged from an ongoing set of relationships that increased in size and complexity over time. Accordingly, local organizations use it as they see fit, to educate new members about Detroit’s food system, to tell the story of the organizing efforts, and to raise more complex questions about unexplored issues. Because the assessment was initiated and carried out by a university faculty member, many of the outcomes are university-related.

The report on the Detroit Food System Assessment is still being finalized at this writing. The assessment has contributed to the following outcomes:


Household food security status


All household types Households w/children under age 18 Households w/elderly,
no children
Households w/no elderly, no children


All Black households
All White households
All other race households

Total Food House Secure


No. %

352 217 61.6 210 108 51.4

63 51 81.0 77 57 74.0

309 191 61.8 21 11 52.4 19 12 63.2

Food insecure, hunger not evident

Food insecure, moderate hunger evident

Food insecure, severe hunger evident

Hunger and Food Insecurity in Detroit

Household food security status by household type and race in Northwest Detroit, 1997


35 23


9.9 11.0


79 65

% No. %

22.4 21 6.0 31.0 14 6.7

7.9 4 6.3 10.4 3 3.9

23.0 18 5.8 23.8 2 9.5 15.8 1 5.3

3 4.8 5 9 11.7 8

29 9.4 71 3 14.3 5 3 15.8 3

Source: Pothukuchi, 2002.4

The table reports on household food security status in a Northwest Detroit neighborhood, derived from a survey of 352 households selected randomly. It identifies four categories of food security status and helps compare between different types of households and racial groups. In this neighborhood, nearly four out of 10 households are food insecure with varying degrees of hunger evident.

  • ◗  The formation of the Detroit Food Security Council, consisting of representatives from many area organizations, private sector groups, and public agencies, including Hunger Action Coalition, Michigan Coalition of Black Farmers, Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Neighborhood Partnership, and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice
  • ◗  A firm basis for university-community collaboration on food system research and program development, with collaborations related to a youth nutrition garden, grocery store investigation, the Community Food Projects (CFP) grant process, etc.
  • ◗  At least two CFP proposals from area organizations and numerous other grant proposals written by organizations and partnerships
  • ◗  Efforts to inform city agencies and local policy makers on specific issues such as the links between food and land use and economic development planning, and local advocacy to improve allocation of public land for urban agriculture initiatives
  • ◗  Greater interest among university students, faculty, and administrators in community food issues and related university-community partnerships

    For more information, contact:

    Kami Pothukuchi, Ph.D.
    Department of Geography and Urban Planning, Wayne State University 225 State Hall
    Detroit, MI 48202

    Copies of the assessment report will be available from Professor Pothukuchi starting December 2002.


Seeds of Change Food System Assessment

In 1992, Los Angeles emerged from a period of civil unrest that had wreaked economic and social havoc on the city. Los Angeles faced serious food security problems, including significant levels of hunger, inadequate government support programs, and an overwhelmed emergency food network. These problems were made worse by the lack of basic infrastructure in the inner city, where there were few supermarkets, generally high food prices, limited public transportation options, and no integrated policy framework to address these problems.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Department of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Southern California Interfaith Hunger Coalition (IHC), a nonprofit advocacy and education organization, joined forces to undertake a comprehensive study of a low-income community of color in South Central LA.

The purposes of the study, called Seeds of Change, were to:

  1. Evaluate problems of food security in the inner city, in both local and national contexts
  2. Describe and assess the adequacy of the federal government’s response to these problems
  3. Analyze how the structure of the food industry has contributed to food insecurity
  4. Identify and evaluate community-based strategies for change
  5. Propose a framework for food security planning that is equitable, economically efficient, and environmentally sound

The Seeds of Change project was carried out with no cash budget, but with major in-kind support, especially from UCLA. Six principal researchers, two supervisors, and more than a dozen research assistants participated in the year-long study (1992-1993). Collaborators and non-profit groups contributed additional in-kind support, and students covered the cost of mileage and telephone calls.

The researchers divided the project into three areas: local, regional, and state/national. The local study included a telephone survey; extensive demographic, land use, and spatial analysis using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software; a profile of food outlets; and a comparative price survey at outlets in the case study area and two suburban communities. Community members participated through a series of household surveys, market surveys, and interviews.

At the regional level, the researchers conducted surveys of consumers and growers at farmers’ markets, inter- viewed low-income community gardeners, reviewed policy and agency activities, examined the structure of the food system from grower to grocery store, surveyed land use and transportation routes, and conducted comparative demographic analysis. At the state and national level, the study gathered data on existing food support programs, examined food policy council initiatives, and analyzed trends of the supermarket industry over the past several decades.

The research from the project was compiled and published as Seeds of Change: Strategies for Food Security for the Inner City5. Other outcomes included:

  • ◗  Formation of the LA Community Food Security Network and the LA Food Security and Hunger Partnership (a food policy council)
  • ◗  Further growth of community gardens and farmers’ markets, and increased food stamp outreach at farmers’ markets
  • ◗  Examples and inspiration that helped spark food assessments in other cities
  • ◗  Increased awareness that catalyzed the movement for food security in the United States, including

    establishment of the Community Food Security Coalition in 1994


For more information, contact:

Andy Fisher, Executive Director Community Food Security Coalition PO Box 209
Venice, CA 90294

Copies of the assessment report are available from:


Madison / Dane County Food System Assessment

Fertile Ground: Planning for the Madison / Dane County Food System6 was the result of a 1997 planning work- shop for graduate students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Urban and Regional Planning (URPL). Students and faculty members took on this project because they believed that the state of the food system could act as a barometer of the well-being of the community. The goals of the study were:

1. To develop a better understanding of the food system in Madison/Dane County 2. To build strategies for improving food security
3. To establish university/community partnerships

The class described the conventional food system in Dane County, evaluated how well this system was working, and spelled out how to develop alternative food systems. The study covered both the City of Madison and surrounding Dane County, a primarily agricultural region in South-Central Wisconsin. The Madison Food System Project (MFSP) and its Director, Jerry Kaufman, provided overall sponsorship and leadership for the project. The research team comprised Professors Kaufman and Kami Pothukuchi (then a visiting faculty at URPL), teaching assistant Mark Stevens, and more than 20 graduate students. Funding for the project came from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (through MFSP) and in-kind donations from the university.

A 20-person advisory committee, consisting of 12 community members and eight academics, provided guidance for the project. The community groups represented included the Northside Planning Council, the Madison Community Gardeners Coalition, the Community Action Coalition, and the Hunger Prevention Council of Dane County. Between phases of the project, the students presented their research projects to the advisory committee and other key informants.

The researchers held focus groups with low-income adults and children in Madison’s Northside and Southside neighborhoods to better understand the strategies low-income people used to stretch food budgets. They gathered information on location and number of food stores, restaurants, food pantries, farmers’ markets, WIC sites, community gardens, and other establishments. The students also collected data about local businesses through a food-related business survey and a food pricing study in selected supermarkets.

The workshop culminated in the publication of Fertile Ground: Planning for the Madison/Dane County Food System in August of 1997. Over 400 copies have been distributed to individuals and organizations in the U.S. and other countries. Other outcomes include:

◗ Development of the Dane County REAP (Research, Education, Action, and Policy) Food Group, which focuses on promoting food security through joint projects, networking, analytical work, and by organizing the annual Food for Thought Festival

◗ Greater visibility of food system issues in Madison


Differences in food security concerns by respondent’s housing tenure, Madison, Wisconsin, 2000 (n=372)

Source: Stevens and Raja, 2001.7

The chart compares the food security concerns of and the use of emergency food by homeowners and renters in Madison, Wisconsin. About twice as many renters as owners are concerned about the high cost of food, getting to the store, and having enough to eat.

This chart was excerpted from one of a series of working papers that were developed after the Fertile Ground study, as a way to address questions that were raised but not resolved in that study.

  • ◗  Increased networking and contacts among individuals and organizations involved in various aspects of the food system
  • ◗  Presentation of a session developed by the faculty instructors and three student researchers at the annual conference of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Planning Association
  • ◗  The start of a Madison Food System Partnership Working Paper Series

    For more information, contact:

    Marcia Caton Campbell, Director Madison Food System Project
    Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning University of Wisconsin – Madison Madison, WI 53706 mcatoncampbe@wisc.edu

    Copies of the assessment report are available from:

    Professor Marcia Caton Campbell at the above address for $10.00. Several working papers from the Madison Food System Project are available at http://www.wisc.edu/mfsp/pubsf/pub.html.


Milwaukee Food System Assessment Study

Milwaukee’s Food System Assessment Study (FSAS) was a broad, five-year collaborative campaign (1995- 2000). Its goals were:

1. To examine the root causes of hunger
2. To develop partnerships to promote food security and systemic change in Milwaukee County

An important objective of the study was to create projects that would promote affordable food access while addressing the lack of economic resources that cause families to experience hunger. The study developed a comprehensive picture of food security in Milwaukee and highlighted the links between poverty and food insecurity in the city.

The Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee collaborated with the Center for Urban Initiatives and Research (CUIR) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to oversee and conduct the research. The Hunger Task Force was the main sponsor, under the leadership of Michael Salinas, then Director of Advocacy. Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Olmedo Varela and Stephen Percy, developed the research protocol. These collabora- tors sought input from the Community Food Security Coalition, Cornell University staff, and local communi- ty contacts. Students from the university participated in the third phase of the project (described below).

The Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee established a Food System Advisory Council to guide and review the research and to make recommendations in response to the study’s findings. The Council, which met quarterly, represented diverse interests in the food system, among them city and state government, non-profit organizations, food pantries, farmers, community activists, and university staff. For detailed decision-making and coordination of the research, the CUIR and the Hunger Task Force staff conducted planning and operational meetings as needed.

The total budget for the study was close to $20,000, which included research assistance, printing, and labor. Cash support was provided by the Wisconsin Food System Partnership ($10,000) and Kraft Foods, Inc. ($4,500). In-kind support (estimated at $5,000) included staff time, reduced rates from printers and graphic artists, and university support for survey work and photocopying.

The assessment’s target areas were located in the near north and near south sides of Milwaukee, both high poverty areas. Community members participated in telephone surveys and focus groups. Phone surveys were conducted to determine what foods were purchased by residents and where. Focus groups were held with clients at food pantries and meal sites.

The study gathered a broad range of information in four phases. The first phase compiled data on population density, income, race and ethnicity, transportation access, as well as the location of emergency food providers, community gardens, farmers’ markets, and other indicators. The second phase collected information on food retailers, including location, food availability, and pricing. The third and fourth phases compiled data from sur- veys and focus groups on perceptions and experiences of the food system among inner-city individuals and families using emergency food programs.

The study developed a thorough picture of food insecurity in Milwaukee and its relationship to poverty. Researchers found that the number of people living below the poverty line had increased dramatically since 1970, and that demand for emergency and non-emergency food programs exceeded their capacity. They also found that Milwaukee’s low-income residents paid more for their groceries and had fewer stores located in their communities. The Hunger Task Force identified strategies for improving food access, promoting economic development, and decreasing poverty. These strategies included promoting public markets, establishing a micro-credit program to help low-income people start food-related enterprises, coordinating transportation routes to grocery stores, developing a food-buying cooperative for small inner city convenience stores, and starting a kitchen incubator for community-based food enterprises.


Problems identified in using “best” stores, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1997 (n=514)


Distance or transportation

Long lines
Too crowded
Items too big
Child care
Coupon items not available
Not consistent
Credit card system out of order Tyme machine out of order Employee attitudes about coupons Bad neighborhood

Four reports, one for each stage of the study, were published:

All Areas


25.0% 9.4% 6.3% 3.1% 3.1% 3.1% 3.1% 3.1% 3.1% 3.1% 3.1%

Source: Varela, Haider-Markel, and Percy, 1998.8

This table reports on the problems respondents (who were randomly selected for a phone survey) had with shopping at stores they considered to be the best for them. Eighty-eight percent of respondents defined “best” stores as large super- markets with good quality, prices, and variety. By far the most commonly reported problem related to distance and trans- portation.

◗ PerceptionsandExperiencesofConsumerAccesstoFoodinMilwaukee’sInnerCityNeighborhoods8 ◗ Socio-SpatialRelationshipsandGoodProgramsinMilwaukee’sFoodSystem9
◗ ComparativeStudyofFoodPricingandAvailabilityinMilwaukee10
◗ FoodInsecurityinMilwaukee:AQualitativeStudyofPantryandMealProgramUsers11

Other outcomes include:

  • ◗  Formation of the Milwaukee Farmers’ Market Association to develop and promote new markets in the inner city
  • ◗  Development of the Fondy Food Center Project, a $5 million year-round food center, market, and kitchen incubator
  • ◗  Overhaul of the Emergency Food Pantry Network and Community Meal Program Coalition, including new types of technical assistance and guidelines
  • ◗  Expansion of the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program to all of Milwaukee’s farmers’ markets
  • ◗  Increased partnerships between the university and non-profit groups, leading to new courses, new

    research, and greater university involvement in the community

    For more information, contact:

    Jon Janowski, Director of Advocacy Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee, Inc. 201 S. Hawley Court
    Milwaukee, WI 53214

    414-777-0483 jon@hungertaskforce.org

    Copies of the assessment report are not available at this writing.


Types of stores where commonly used items are purchased most often, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1997 (n=514)

Item Purchased

Milk and Dairy Products

Canned Food and Vegetables Fresh Food and Vegetables Meat
Frozen Food

Bakery Items Beer and Alcohol Cigarettes

Ethnic or Specialty Food

Source: Varela, Haider-Markel, and Percy, 1998.8

Large Stores


86.2% 89.3% 80.9% 84.2% 62.3% 73.2% 68.5% 16.7% 12.3% 23.3%

Medium Small Stores Stores

4.7% 9.7%

6.4% 1.4%

7.4% 0.4% 13.8% 1.4% 6.6% 1.2% 4.7% 4.7%

11.5% 11.9% 8.0% 6.4% 2.3% 14.0% 1.9% 18.5%

14.0% 1.8%

Don’t Buy No Response

1.4% 1.2%

4.9% 1.2% 1.6% 1.4% 2.3% 1.6% 6.6% 1.4%

25.9% 2.5% 1.4% 2.1% 15.2% 1.9% 65.2% 1.8% 65.4% 1.9% 57.4% 3.5%

This table reports on the type of stores where 514 respondents most often purchased commonly used items. Store size was defined by examples of specific stores. Corner stores and convenience stores were defined as small. Large stores were used most often for purchasing all products except cigarettes.

The North Country Community Food and Economic Security Project

The North Country of New York State spans six counties near the Canadian border. These counties are primarily rural, and agriculture is an integral aspect of the history and identity of the area. Unemployment is roughly twice the state average, and the region faces high rates of poverty and social isolation.

The North Country Community Food and Economic Security Project was conducted between December 1996 and May 1998, with follow-up work still continuing at this writing. The primary goal of the project was to engage and mobilize a broad network of county residents and improve access to healthful, locally produced foods while strengthening the economic viability of regional agriculture.

The project used a community-centered approach to identify residents’ key concerns about the food system. A broad range of North Country residents—including dairy farmers, local processors, market managers, local agency staff, religious leaders, teachers, low-income parents, and county legislators—participated in two-day conferences in each county. Participants engaged in a series of open-ended questions, selected by local adviso- ry committees in the search conference model. The search conference is a structured process that engages the community in reviewing the past and present, creating ideal future scenarios, identifying common ground, and developing action plans. Questions included:

1. Who’s feeding you and what are you eating?
2. How can we build a stronger community through better management of local food resources? 3. How should our local food system look and work in the next five years?
4. How should our local food system work in 2020?

Conference participants also reviewed county-specific data on demographics, health, the economy, agriculture, and food availability. Residents provided qualitative data such as first-person accounts of historical shifts in local agriculture, trends in community development, and changing industries. Additional data were gathered through the workshop evaluation form.


The project was implemented through the North Country Community Food and Economic Security Network, which included a small campus-based team in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell and representa- tives of the county offices of Cooperative Extension and Community Action Programs in each of the six North Counties. In addition, county representatives from the regional network formed separate advisory committees with local residents to steer each of the county search conferences.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The USDA provided tuition and a stipend for a graduate student and CDC provided a budget of $184,000 over a two-year period for staff salary, office expenses, search conference fees, and other operating costs. In-kind resources of staff time from Community Action Agencies and facilities and food from Cornell Cooperative Extension amounted to approximately $4,000 per county.

Outcomes include:

  • ◗  Development of a Cornell Cooperative Extension position to continue and further work group efforts

    started during the conferences

  • ◗  Increased networks among community and agency members
  • ◗  Creation of a fellowship kitchen to serve all community members including the hungry, elderly, disabled, and single-parent families in Essex County
  • ◗  Implementation of a system to provide donations of venison and beef to local food pantries in Lewis and St. Lawrence counties
  • ◗  Establishment of a weekly regional farmers’ market in Jefferson County
  • ◗  Improved food distribution networks between the Community Action Programs of Jefferson County and

    Franklin County

  • ◗  Increased storage and trucking facilities through joint efforts of a Food Security Committee.
  • ◗  Numerous publications targeted at a variety of audiences

    For more information, contact:

    David Pelletier, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Nutrition Policy Division of Nutritional Sciences
    378 MVR Hall
    Cornell University

    Ithaca, NY 14853 607-255-1086

    Copies of the assessment report are available from:

    The Journal Agriculture and Human Values, Volume 17, Issue 1, 200012.

    Youth Envision: Bayview Hunters Point Food Study

    The Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood is located in Southeast San Francisco. It is one of the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse areas in the city, and also among the poorest. The goal of the Bayview Hunters Point Food Study was to identify and promote strategies for improving access to nutritious food in the neighborhood, while also providing job training for community trainees and youth interns.

    In March 2001 the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Section (EHS) began a partnership in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood with a community-based organization, the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG). EHS approached SLUG because they had long been active in urban agriculture and food security projects in this neighborhood. In turn, SLUG engaged in a collaboration with


Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) to develop a youth program around food security issues in the Bayview Hunters Point. A participatory action model was used to train youth in the skills and resources needed to investigate food security in their neighborhood. EHS provided technical instruction and assistance, as well as support to SLUG and LEJ project staff on action research methods. SLUG and LEJ coordinated the youth interns.

The total budget for the study was approximately $20,000, plus significant in-kind time from EHS and SLUG’s Youth Internship Program. The assessment project was funded by the Department of Public Health, while additional funding for the youth interns was provided by other city agencies. The steering committee consisted of the Director of Urban Agriculture at SLUG and members of the Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health and Nutrition Sections. Decisions about data and reports were made by the steering committee.

Project staff working with EHS and the youth participants created a questionnaire focused on identifying ways to increase access to nutritious food. The survey sought information on where people were getting their food, the barriers to purchasing healthy foods, and changes that would help people to purchase healthy foods.

Youth empowerment was a significant aspect of the project. The youth developed their own recommendations, work plan, and deliverables with the help of project staff. The youth program combined learning about the food system with community actions such conducting outreach for a new farmers’ market in the neighborhood, and community mapping of food assets. Youth were trained in survey methods, data analysis, health impact assess- ment, public communications, and other areas. Seventeen youth advocates collected survey responses from more than 280 individuals in their neighborhood. Survey locations included grocery stores, churches, com- munity colleges, a post office, and a fast food restaurant.

The youth then worked with staff to analyze the survey data and create a list of recommendations to improve food access in Bayview Hunters Point. The four strategies identified as most helpful by survey respondents were the following:

1. Creation or improvement of a grocery store/supermarket 2. Creation of a neighborhood farmers’ market

Barriers to purchasing healthful foods, San Francisco, California, 2001 (n=283)

Source: Bhatia, Calandra, Brainin-Rodriguez, and Jones, 2001.13

In this project, youth conducted a survey of 283 non-randomly selected residents of Bayview Hunters Point, a neighborhood in San Francisco, and asked what keeps them from purchasing healthful foods. The respondents identified a variety of barriers related to access and availability, food quality and costs, and time constraints.


3. Better quality food on shelves of corner stores 4. Healthy fast food retailers

The youth interns shared their research findings widely through meetings and presentations with residents, community organizations, and service providers. At this writing, action plans have been developed for the local farmers’ market and corner stores, and a plan for a new or improved grocery store is underway.

Other outcomes include:

  • ◗  SLUG youth interns and staff created a new Bayview Community Farmers Market as a community development project. Youth have assisted with outreach, vendor relations, and market operations.
  • ◗  Some corner store owners have made a commitment to stock a minimum amount of fresh food. Youth interns have conducted healthy snack taste tests at the farmers’ market, and the results have been incorporated into an action plan for the corner stores. The Department of Public Health awarded a $100,000 grant to the Youth Envision Project to continue the youth work with the corner stores.
  • ◗  Thecity’stransitauthorityagreedtoprovidenewshuttleroutesdirectlyfromthecommunitytofoodsources.
  • ◗  Neighborhood youth gained new skills and empowerment through job training and by working to educate

    and serve their community.

    For more information, contact:

    Fernando Ona, Health Educator/Medical Anthropologist San Francisco Department of Public Health
    1390 Market Street, Suite 822
    San Francisco, CA 94102

    415-252-3939 fernando.ona@sfdph.org

    Copies of the assessment report are not available at this writing.

Most valuable community resources for purchasing healthful foods. San Francisco, California, 2001 (n=283)

Source: Bhatia, Calandra, Brainin-Rodriguez, and Jones, 2001.13

In this survey of 283 residents of Bayview Hunters Point (selected non-randomly), respondents were asked which of the above resources would most help them purchase healthful foods. The percentages indicate how many respondents said they would use each resource “sometimes or regularly.”


m SOMERVILLE, MASSACHUSETTS Somerville Community Food Assessment

The Somerville Community Food Assessment (SCFA) was a one-year initiative started in late 1999 to take a comprehensive look at food and nutrition resources in the city. The goal was to strengthen planning and policy for community-based food and nutrition resources for low-income residents in Somerville, Massachusetts, a largely working class and ethnically diverse community north of Boston.

The SCFA was sponsored by the Massachusetts Health Research Institute (MHRI) in Boston, working in collaboration with Hugh Joseph at the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy. It was funded by a $49,000 Health and Human Services/Community Food and Nutrition Program grant. Two part-time staff and a steering committee of 18 professionals and unaffiliated residents collaborated to collect the data. The organizations involved were principally providers of food and nutrition services in Somerville, including emer- gency food programs, community gardens, elder services, school food services, public health services, WIC, and Head Start. In addition, there were participants from other social services and from academic institutions (Tufts and University of Massachusetts at Amherst).

The steering committee met monthly and made all major decisions regarding data collection, community input, and determination of needs and responses to them. Subcommittees helped with collecting information, con- tacting community leaders, and other activities. Staff coordinated activities between meetings, collected data, prepared reports and carried out other administrative tasks; four interns from Tufts University also assisted with activities. Interviews were held with dozens of community leaders and other stakeholders, particularly those representing ethnic communities and the public schools.

A significant component of the Somerville Community Food Assessment was to model participatory food systems planning. Project participants attended a Participatory Action Research workshop to learn how to involve the community in this process. They then met with city agencies and citizens’ groups to identify com- munity priorities in relation to food, health, and nutrition. From these meetings, the assessment participants determined that many food and nutrition resources were underutilized due to a lack of awareness about their existence or a lack of understanding of eligibility requirements. As a result, project participants decided to create a guide to food and nutrition resources in Somerville.

Outcomes of the assessment include the following:

  • ◗  An extensive community food and nutrition resource guide was published. The 89-page guide lists a wide range of programs and services, primarily targeting low-income and ethnic minority residents. It includes retail food stores, government and private food assistance programs, nutrition and health services, commu- nity gardens, farmers’ markets, and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms. Several hundred copies were distributed and the guide was posted online (see web address at the end of this case study).
  • ◗  A group of organizations, including Head Start and Project Soup, joined together to offer a series of cooking classes for low-income residents through the Operation Frontline program. The group is seeking funds to offer more cooking classes in Somerville.
  • ◗  A Community Kitchen Task Force is examining the feasibility of setting up commercial kitchen facilities and resident cooking programs. The group is conducting a focused needs assessment—collecting technical assistance information, surveying potential sites and resident and commercial interest, and determining sponsorship, development costs, and operational strategies.
  • ◗  A Public Health Nutrition Task Force was formed after nine months, and now has over 20 participants. It has carried out an extensive strategic planning process and made addressing obesity its primary focus. Additional activities in planning, research, and fundraising for a healthy weight campaign for children are underway.


For more information, contact:

Hugh Joseph Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy 126 Curtis Street
Medford, MA 02155

Copies of the assessment report are available from:



These case studies are a tribute to the skills and resourcefulness of their organizers, and to the power of the Community Food Assessment approach. The case study groups were successful in organizing assessments, gathering a wide range of data, and using the results to generate tangible outcomes. They demonstrated that assessments in diverse settings can generate a range of powerful results, both tangible outcomes such as new policies and programs, and process benefits such as new partnerships and capacity development. That these results were achieved at a time when almost no guidance or resources were available to support Community Food Assessments is especially remarkable. To us, it is indicative of the depth of concern about local food issues and an optimistic sign of the potentially rich future of this approach to addressing them. Our hope is that this Guide and other emerging resources, along with the growing body of knowledge from assessments that are being conducted, will further support—and speed up!—the development of many more successful Community Food Assessments all over the country.


Information Gathered by Assessment Case Study Groups

















Broad community demographics

Population make-up


Incomes, employment, related data

Focus on low-income/ disadvantaged populations
Hunger/food insecurity


Emergency food assistance

Government food assistance Other anti-hunger services and outreach programs


Diet-related diseases

Community public health
Quality of diets / nutritional status Exercise, lifestyle habits


Broad food system characteristics

Retail food sector data
Wholesale, other food system data

Restaurants/institutional food service data


Local/regional agriculture—status

Local/regional agriculture links
to community (e.g. CSA’s, farm mkts) Community-based food production (e.g. gardens)


Public transportation access

Vehicle access
Comprehensive transportation access

















































Information Gathered by Assessment Case Study Groups – continued:















Community institutional resources (broad)

Community leadership and power Labor issues, roles


Health/nutrition outreach/referral services

Food / nutrition related projects


Food system related (business, job training)


Waste disposal, recycling, composting Water quality

Land contamination, hazardous waste Open space, land use or access


Legislation, funding, regulations


Coverage of issues, food ads, etc.


Hunting, fishing and trapping licenses /
























game deer take
Physical activity resources SM


BK: Berkeley Community Food Assessment, Berkeley, CA
DT: Detroit Food System Assessment, Detroit, MI
LA: Seeds of Change Food System Assessment, Los Angeles, CA
MD: Madison/Dane County Food System Assessment, Madison, WI
MW: Milwaukee Food System Assessment Study, Milwaukee, WI
NY: The North Country Community Food and Economic Security Project, NY SF: Youth Envision: Bayview Hunters Point Food Study, San Francisco, CA SM: Somerville Community Food Assessment, Somerville, MA
TX: Access Denied: An Analysis of Food Access in East Austin, Austin, TX

Note: This table was assembled based on information provided by case study contacts. Not all rows contain information related to all cases because of incomplete responses.


  1. 1  Sustainable Food Center. 2001. Access Denied: An Analysis of Problems Facing East Austin Residents in Their Attempts to Obtain Affordable, Nutritious Food. Austin, Texas: Sustainable Food Center. http://www.main.org/sfc/access_denied/ (Date accessed: 3 Sept 2002).
  2. 2  Pinderhughes, R., and J. Miner. 2001. Good Farming, Healthy Communities: Strengthening Sustainable Agriculture Sectors and Local Food Systems. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco State University, Urban and Environmental Studies Program.
  3. 3  Cohen, B. 2002. Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/efan02013/ (Date accessed: 3 Sept 2002).
  4. 4  Pothukuchi, K. 2002. The Detroit Food System: A Handbook for Local Planning. Detroit: Wayne State University.
  5. 5  Ashman, L., J. de la Vega, M. Dohan, A. Fisher, R. Hippler, and B. Romain. 1993. Seeds of Change: Strategies for Food Security for the Inner City. Los Angeles, CA: University of California, Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
  6. 6  University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Urban and Regional Planning. 1997. Fertile Ground: Planning for the Madison/Dane County Food System. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin- Madison Food System Project. http://www.wisc.edu/mfsp/pubsf/pub.html (Date accessed: 3 Sept 2002).
  7. 7  Stevens, M. R., and S. Raja. 2001. What’s Eating You About What You Eat? Madison Food System Project Working Paper Series MFSP-WPS-05. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison Food System Project.
  8. 8  Varela, O. J., D. P. Haider-Markel, and S. L. Percy. 1998. Perceptions and Experiences of Consumer Access to Food in Milwaukee’s Inner-City Neighborhoods. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.
  9. 9  Varela, O. J. 1996. Socio-spatial Relationships and Food Programs in Milwaukee’s Food System. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

10 Johnson, K., S. Percy, and E. Wagner. 1996. Comparative Study of Food Pricing and Availability in Milwaukee. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

11 Varela, O. J, K. Johnson, and S. Percy. 1998. Food Insecurity in Milwaukee: A Qualitative Study of Food Pantry and Meal Program Users. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

  1. 12  Pelletier, D. L., V. Kraak, C. McCullum, U. Uusitalo and R. Rich. 2000. Values, Public Policy and Community Food Security. Agriculture and Human Values, 17(1): 75-93.
  2. 13  Bhatia, R., C. Calandra, L. Brainin-Rodriguez, P. Jones. 2001. Food Access Study of the Bayview Hunters Point. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Department of Public Health; San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners.



Planning Your Community

Food Assessment

There is no master plan for implementing a Community Food Assessment—each one is unique. Still, there are some basic steps to consider in planning an assessment to ensure that it incorporates key features such as a food system focus, collaboration among stakeholders, community involvement, and an action orientation. This chap- ter is organized into sections that describe the major areas of work in planning an assessment:

1. Getting Your Assessment Team Together
2. Clarifying Assessment Goals, Interests, and Decision Processes 3. Planning the Assessment Budget and Mobilizing Resources
4. Planning the Assessment Research
5. Planning for the Use and Evaluation of Your Assessment

We offer this overview of the assessment planning work in order to highlight key areas of decision-making and the players and activities associated with these areas, and to help you map out and anticipate the process before you start. While these areas of work are presented sequentially in this chapter, in practice they often will overlap. For example, you may find the need to include new members as you think through your research questions and methods, and to start planning for the use of your assessment before you begin your research. Such adjustments and changes are an appropriate part of an organizing process, and it is important to strike a balance between making clear decisions and remaining flexible, so that you make progress while also main- taining buy-in and support.

1. Getting Your Assessment Team Together

Organizing the core assessment team is one of the most important aspects of the process. This team will deter- mine the shape of the assessment and its outcomes, decide whom to invite to be part of the process, and be responsible for implementing the assessment and follow-up actions.

Assessments can get started in many different ways, with varying levels of community participation. One or several groups could take the lead and invite others to join later. A coalition of organizations that has already worked together might decide to conduct an assessment. Or an assessment could begin with a broad community organ- izing process that involves a range of stakeholders in deciding whether to conduct an assessment and what the focus should be. All of these are valid approaches that can result in successful assessments and follow-up actions. Yet the way an assessment starts, and who is at the table when it gets started, will have lasting impli- cations for the process and its impact in the community. The editors of this guide encourage an approach that involves collaboration between diverse organizations and meaningful participation by community mem- bers.

Potential assessment participants

Who might want to or should be involved in an assessment? It is valuable to start with a broad pool. Everyone has a stake in the food system, and valuable players can come from almost anywhere in the community. All the assessments presented in Chapter 3 involved partnerships among organizations active on various community food issues. Many had representatives from universities, public agencies, private sector firms, the nonprofit sector, and community-based organizations. Ideally, such representatives should have both an individual and organizational interest in participating, and their institution should support the assessment with their staff time and other resources.


  1. Organizational representatives

    In many assessments, organizational representatives are the primary participants. They often bring to the process extensive knowledge of the local community and its food system, contacts with other stakeholders and community members, and experience with organizing and group process. Organizations focused on food and agriculture issues such as anti-hunger, sustainable agriculture, urban gardening, public health, and nutri- tion are clear candidates. Groups working on related issues may be natural allies; these may include environ- ment, community development, housing, social service, and civic groups.

  2. Colleges and universities

    Academic institutions can bring important research skills to the table, and contribute their and students’ time to conduct and analyze research. They also have access to resources that community organizations may lack, including computers, data, and computer mapping capability. (See sidebar on next page.)

  3. Public officials and agencies

    Public agency staff often collect data about the food system and related issues, and may conduct assessments to inform policy making. They also communicate with decision-makers in other government agencies. Involving public officials and agency representatives in the assessment planning process, even those who do not work directly on food issues, can facilitate access to information and increase the chance that the assessment’s findings will lead to policy changes.

  4. Private sector firms

    The private sector, including farmers, grocery stores, food processors, and distributors, plays an important role in the food system. Many business leaders are interested in contributing to the community. They also may be visible, influential, and well connected. Involving them as partners can facilitate linkages to com- munity economic development, encourage private sector involvement in improving the food system, and potentially bring in tangible resources such as money, facilities, and databases.

  5. Community residents

    This category refers to participants who live in the community, but do not directly represent an organization (although they may be involved with local groups). Resident participation is essential to ensure that the assessment addresses the needs and interests of the community. They can best understand and represent the interests of ordinary households, and provide an important balance to the views of organizational representatives.

Criteria for identifying assessment participants

Participating in an assessment, especially as a core member, can involve a significant commitment of time and energy. It is important to take the time to recruit a diverse group of capable and dedicated participants. Below are some criteria to consider as you identify potential participants.

  1. Community representation

    Those who live and work in a community are vital to the assessment process. Seek out people who are involved in their communities, respected as community leaders, and have a stake in the outcomes.

  2. Diversity

    Representation from diverse stakeholder and population groups helps make an assessment effective, by bringing in different perspectives, helping the group to think creatively, and building the buy-in and support that foster successful follow-up actions.

  3. Expertise and experience

    A broad range of knowledge and skills among assessment participants will increase the group’s resourcefulness and its capacity to move forward. This expertise can include understanding of the community or food issues,


skills in research, or background in community organizing, policy advocacy, or program development. Having a good mix of content and process skills in the team is important.

4. Availability

Consistent participation and follow-through are important for the continuity of the assessment process. Anyone who will be significantly involved should understand the process, the timetable, and their role, and consider whether they can commit to participating for the duration of the assessment. It is especially impor- tant to be respectful of the time of volunteers, and to consider their needs when scheduling meetings and assessment work.

5. Capacity for decision-making

In order for the assessment team to move forward effectively, it is important that organizational representa- tives are empowered to make decisions on behalf of their organization in the context of the assessment process, or have a way to efficiently get input or approval from others in their group as needed.

Benefits and Limitations of Universities as Assessment Partners

Including university- or college-based researchers in assessment partnerships has many benefits. Faculty members bring expertise in their subject areas, such as health, social work, urban planning, or nutrition. They also bring extensive knowledge of and skills in research approaches and methods, and many care about apply- ing their knowledge to serve their community and cre- ate positive change. Involving university-based researchers also conveys valuable credibility to the assessment research, which can be especially impor- tant if the results are likely to be controversial.

Additionally, university involvement typically con- tributes the brain and labor power of students in ways that are beneficial to both the community and the stu- dents. Communities gain through the ideas and efforts that students contribute through service learning, vol- unteer work, internships, and class projects designed in collaboration with the assessment team, with little or no direct cost to the assessment organizers. Communities also gain when a new generation of stu- dents learns skills related to community partnerships and collaborative processes. Students gain an educa- tion in research and community work, while contribut- ing to real world decisions and actions.

In addition to contributing their time, university facul- ty also may bring in funding and in-kind resources to assessments that can be quite significant. Most of the cases described in the Chapter 3 have involved grant funding sought by university faculty members from public or foundation sources. Universities also can con- tribute in-kind resources through providing classrooms

for meetings, computer lab access, copying and mail- ing, and dissemination of assessment findings through university channels.

Finally, through such partnerships universities are made more accountable to their communities and chal- lenged to think creatively about how public invest- ments in higher education return direct benefits to the local community. More and more universities are devis- ing policies for community engagement and partner- ships, following a long history of benign neglect if not active conflict with surrounding communities. For all these reasons, you may want to involve faculty from a nearby university in your assessment team.

However, university involvement can also bring with it certain limitations, which are important to recognize and address up front. University faculty often are sub- ject to pressures that make community partnerships more difficult: universities usually reward leadership and not collaboration; they demand new and widely- generalizable theories and questions rather than local theories, community knowledge, and local testing of theories; they demand quick results and tend to be impatient with the time and effort community process- es need; and finally, university bureaucracies often seek to control processes and outcomes rather than sharing widely. We urge university and community par- ticipants to clearly identify personal, professional, and organizational/institutional interests in participation and to engage in a dialogue about how the assessment can or cannot serve these interests.


Facilitating and implementing a Community Food Assessment requires a variety of skills in organizing, research, and process facilitation. Providing training in these skills can be very valuable to build the capacity of assessment team members, both for the assessment process itself and other work in the future. For example, the Youth Envision assessment in San Francisco trained young people to conduct a survey and analyze and report on its results. The Austin assessment trained community members to use an instrument to survey which neighborhood stores had food products that could be used to prepare balanced meals.

Training sessions for process facilitation might include topics such as: facilitating discussions, building group consensus, creatively resolving conflicts, and planning with groups. Training in research methods might include topics such as survey administration, use of mapping software, data sampling, management, analysis, and pres- entation. Finally, training could also cover designing and implementing change actions, with topics like coali- tion building, community outreach and organizing, policy advocacy, and media outreach.

Encouraging community participation

Community Food Assessment is by definition a participatory process. Yet depending on who organizes the process and how, the breadth of participation can vary widely. The editors of this guide support an approach that emphasizes significant community participation. Such participation helps ensure that the assessment will reflect community concerns and goals, generate meaningful results, and lead to positive and lasting changes.

This discussion of community participation may suggest that we are assuming that the assessment organizers and community members are separate groups who are not yet working together. This is not the case; we mere- ly want to highlight how to encourage community participation. We expect that assessment organizers already will have some connections and working relationships with community members; indeed we hope those links will be strong.

Community members can play a valuable role not only in gathering and providing information, but also in shaping key decisions about the assessment and follow-up activities, and in helping implement these decisions. Involving community partners from the start fosters trust, inclusiveness, and shared ownership of the process. It can make the assessment a vehicle for empowering traditionally disenfranchised constituencies, and for increasing community capacity to create positive change. Like other assessment team members, community res- idents can be involved at different levels. Some may attend a focus group or respond to a survey; others may serve on the steering committee or work part-time to do community outreach.

The extent of community participation in an assessment should be clarified early on by the assessment team, as it will have a major impact on many aspects of the process. It will be important to build outreach plans and opportunities for participation into the overall assessment plan. Here are some key principles to keep in mind when designing your assessment process to obtain meaningful community participation:1

  • ◗  Effective participation requires a planned process in which the key interests in your group agree on the level of participation that is appropriate.
  • ◗  Participation involves developing agreements on both what is to be achieved (the outcomes) and how it is to be done (the methods).
  • ◗  Participation is a process of learning and development for all concerned. It takes time.
  • ◗  People will only be involved if they understand each other, have the confidence to participate, and can see

    some point to it.

  • ◗  The use of short-term methods and techniques for participation requires understanding of the overall process, and skilled application. There are no quick fixes.

    The process of organizing community participation in an assessment can take many forms, ranging from one- on-one outreach to facilitating a rapid Community Food Assessment. (See sidebar in section 4 below.) It should include communicating both the goals of the assessment process and the benefits of participation, as well as seeking to understand community members’ issues and interests related to the assessment. It is important


for those involved in outreach to see their role as facilitating two-way communication between the communi- ties and the assessment team, rather than just getting information out to the community. For example, sim- ply publicizing a meeting or inviting people to participate may not be enough. It may take significant time and effort to build trust and get people interested, and it is important to do a lot of listening and demonstrate genuine interest in their concerns and ideas.

Community members who might participate in an assessment could include diverse neighborhood residents; workers in food production, distribution, and sales; clients of food assistance programs; farmers; and others. They should include people of diverse ages, ethnicities, and income levels. It is valuable to work with a group of organizers who are multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, in order to reach out to various types of communities effectively. Conducting outreach and organizing at multiple sites also is important to reach a broad range of com- munity members. These sites might include workplaces, social service centers, neighborhood centers, church- es and other places of worship, and meetings of community-based organizations. You may want to consider returning to the same sites later to request additional feedback or share results.

Community Mapping: A Creative Approach to Food System Change

In 1999, innovative community mapping projects were conducted in three cities in Great Britain, to enable local people to analyze their food economies and work with others to develop sustainable solutions to the prob- lems they faced in eating a healthy diet. The projects were led by Sustain: The Alliance for Better Food and Farming, in partnership with Oxfam. The projects and the community mapping process are documented in a report titled: Reaching the Parts. Community mapping: Working together to tackle social exclusion and food poverty. Color photographs and charts provide testimony to a creative, community-based process. To order the report, go to Sustain’s website at http://www.sustainweb.org/pub_poverty.asp.

Source: Sustain: the Alliance for Better Food and Farming, 2000.2


To effectively foster community participation, it is important to address constraints to this participation. These range from practical issues such as not owning a car or needing child care, to cultural and political issues such as not feeling part of the dominant culture of the assessment group, or negative past experiences with organiz- ers coming in to a community.

The composition and leadership of the assessment group, decision-making process, meeting times and places, interpreter assistance, and providing expense reimbursements and childcare all are important to consider in creating an inclusive process. For example, in planning meetings you may want to consider the following:

◗ Is the time convenient for those who want to be involved?
◗ Is the location convenient and accessible by public transit? Will anyone need a ride? ◗ Is the site comfortable and welcoming for community members?
◗ Will interpreters be needed, and for what languages?
◗ Will participants need childcare?

Finally, since assessment planning can be time-consuming, it’s important to consider reimbursing community participants for their time, out-of-pocket expenses, and possible foregone income. This can be extremely important to encourage substantial participation by people whose time spent on assessment activities isn’t supported by their organizations.

Techniques for participatory information-gathering

A variety of techniques can be used to facilitate broad community participation in an assessment. It generally is a good idea to use more than one, to ensure a range of diverse responses. Anyone who is using such a technique should be sensitive to the social and cultural environment in which it is to be implemented. In choosing a technique, the following criteria should be considered:

◗ The objectives for community participation (e.g., providing input or decision-making) ◗ Who will be involved in these sessions (e.g. youth, elderly, farm workers)?
◗ The social relationships that already exist in the community (including tensions)
◗ Whether the participants have previous experience with involvement in similar projects Commonly used techniques for gaining significant community input include:

◗ Meetings in which information is sought and given
◗ Community committees that can meet to provide feedback as needed ◗ Participatory data-gathering

Participatory data-gathering is discussed in greater detail in Appendix 1, in a summary of various techniques as they relate to conducting a Community Food Assessment.

2. Clarifying Assessment Goals, Interests, and Decision Processes

The Community Food Assessment is created from the ground up by its participants, based on their goals and interests and the resources they are able to mobilize. People will come to the process with a wide range of inter- ests and expectations. Therefore, it is very important to clarify participants’ goals and interests, identify shared goals, and develop clear agreement on the assessment goals and decision-making processes.

Clarifying goals and interests

Once you’ve assembled your initial group, invite members to identify their goals and interests related to the


Basic steps of an assessment

This checklist provides an overview of the steps typically involved in planning and implementing an assessment. These steps may not all be needed in each situation, and they won’t necessarily occur in this sequence.

Get some background on Community Food Assessments

  • Read reports from previous assessments and related resources
  • Talk to people who have conducted assessments to learn about their experiences

    Recruit participants

  • Identify a group of key stakeholders and organize an initial meeting
  • Determine the group’s interest in conducting an assessment
  • Identify and recruit other participants, representing diverse interests and skills

    Determine assessment purposes and goals

    • Identify participants’ goals and interests
    • Clarify and prioritize initial goals for assessment • Revisit and refine goals later as needed

    Develop a planning and decision-making process

    • Clarify who will make decisions and how
    • Clarify the roles of participants, defining various

      levels of participation

    • Develop a plan for meaningful community participation

      Define the community

    • Define geographic boundaries for the assessment
    • Decide whether to focus on specific population


      Identify funds and other resources

      • Develop overall budget
      • Secure grants or other funding

• Identify in-kind resources and a project sponsor • Recruit and train staff and volunteers as needed

Plan and conduct research

• Develop assessment questions and indicators • Identify existing data and information needed • Determine appropriate research methods
• Collect data from existing and original sources • Process and analyze data

• Summarize assessment findings

Present and disseminate assessment findings

• Identify audiences for assessment and appropriate ways to reach them

• Compile assessment findings into a report and/or other materials

• Disseminate findings through materials, meetings, and media outreach

Evaluate and celebrate

• Review assessment process and outcomes • Celebrate! Thank and honor participants

Implement follow-up actions

• Develop goals and action plan based on the assessment results

• Mobilize additional resources and participants if needed

• Consider whether to implement another assessment phase

community’s food system. Examples of goals might include: more farmland saved; more economic opportunity; greater access to fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods; and building healthful eating among youth. As you review participants’ goals, it is valuable to step back to see if other important goals may need to be included, and to consider whether there are others who can address these missing goals who should be invited to participate.

Once you have identified participants’ goals, it is important to use a clear process to prioritize these and agree upon a limited number of shared goals for the assessment team. As you prioritize the goals, you may want to consider criteria such as the breadth of support among the participants for the goals, the relative difficulty or ease of realizing the goals, resources the group may expect to mobilize, and the urgency with which par- ticular goals are sought. You also may want a mix of short-term goals that can be achieved relatively easily, and longer-term goals. As you examine further issues of scope, resources, and capacity to do the research, you may


need to revise this list somewhat. But you will be well on your way to having addressed the fundamental plan- ning question of identifying the goals for you assessment.

In addition to identifying participants’ goals, you may wish to explicitly identify interests. The key ques- tion is: “What are we hoping to gain for ourselves and our organizations by participating in the Community Food Assessment process?” Often, these are the same as the goals identified above. Examples of interests might include: organizations might want to gain visibility or support for their work; a local official might want to improve her standing in the neighborhood; retailers would want to improve their sales and profits; and uni- versity faculty might want to get a paper published from the research.

In a group process characterized by familiar and close ties, past collaborative successes, and professional respect, these personal and organizational interests would likely be easily voiced and mutually supported in the group. However, in a group that is coming together for the first time or where significant mistrust or conflict exists, many interests might remain unspoken.

Some interests may well emerge as the planning team members build trust and recognize shared interests. However, unspoken interests may continue to affect the process, and in some cases may be at odds with the assessment goals. Therefore, it is very important to create an environment in which personal and organizational interests can be openly articulated. If some participants’ interests are different from the goals that emerge from the process above, it will be important to consider whether or not it is appropriate to incorporate these interests into the assessment goals.

Clarifying the decision-making structure and process

As a collaborative process, Community Food Assessment involves a great deal of group planning and decision- making. It is important to develop decision-making structures and processes that the group understands and supports, and that allow the group to move forward efficiently. These will go a long way to helping ensure that the assessment meets its goals and builds capacity for further collaboration and action. And they will make the journey easier and more enjoyable!

As you pull together your team and start planning for your assessment, it will become clear that different peo- ple have varying degrees of enthusiasm and ability to attend to the details of planning and implementing the assessment. You may need to identify a smaller group that can handle more day-to-day decision-making and implementation of broad group directions. Many assessments develop three basic tiers of involvement in assessment planning:

  1. A steering committee decides overall directions for the assessment, provides some assistance in carrying out the research, identifies and helps to access resources, and helps to design action strategies based on the assessment findings. Committee members usually are linked to networks of formal or informal power and influence in the community, and should include community residents.

    The size of the steering committee depends on the structure of the assessment, length of the process, resources available, and other considerations, but in general is around 15 or 20 people. The group needs enough members to provide diverse representation, but should not be so large as to be unwieldy. Such a group might meet once a month or so.

  2. A smaller core group and/or coordinator usually makes and carries out day-to-day decisions that follow from the broad directives of the steering committee. This group or individual coordinates the planning process, gives shape to the final assessment design, brings questions to the steering committee for decisions, raises funds, and carries out the research. This smaller group includes people who can commit significant time to the process and who have specific skills needed for the assessment. They may conduct the research or hire outside researchers.
  3. Community hearings or meetings often are held at key points in the planning and implementation process. These meetings provide opportunities to gain broad community input into planning, to update


the community on the progress of the assessment as it proceeds, and to report on the assessment findings after it is completed. Such meetings can be a valuable way to gain community input to and participation in the assessment planning and research. More importantly, they are central to building a broad base of community support for actions resulting from the assessment, and can encourage accountability from decision-makers and greater community control of decisions related to the food system. The success of these community meetings will depend greatly on the relationships and trust that have been developed between assessment organizers and community members, and the extent to which the community has an oppor- tunity to shape the process.

Documenting the assessment planning process and decisions

As your assessment group starts to work together, you will need to develop ways to document the process and share this information with participants and others. This documentation can serve several purposes, including:

◗ Providing a memory of people, decisions, and resources
◗ Keeping participants updated and promoting accountability
◗ Helping tell your assessment’s story
◗ Capturing information that can be used to evaluate the assessment process and outcomes

Some elements of this record keeping are standard for any group process; others may be more specific to your assessment. Some of this information should be provided to participants; some can be kept in a central location. Here is a sample list:

  • ◗  A participant contact list
  • ◗  Agendas for meetings
  • ◗  Minutes of meetings, with decisions, action steps and responsible individuals, and timelines highlighted
  • ◗  A periodically updated schedule of activities
  • ◗  Files with information on relevant community food issues, such as newspaper clippings and academic studies
  • ◗  Lists or files of resources that you may need for your assessment, including sources of funding or in-kind support, data sources, research tools, and media and presentation outlets

    Clarifying who will do what

    Deciding who will do what is a key part of planning an assessment. It is important to have clear agreements about roles and expectations, based on a shared commitment to the assessment as a collaborative project. Maintaining a sense of teamwork, appreciating people for their work, and keeping up a sense of momentum all are important to keep people motivated to participate actively.

    Basic project management tools are helpful to keep people on track, especially when you are working with a team of busy people with multiple commitments. It is helpful to have clear timelines for completion of tasks and systems for checking in, perhaps at regular planning meetings. A formal agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) also can be valuable in clarifying roles. An assessment coordinator can play a key role in helping ensure coordination and accountability.

    In dividing labor, consider which partners can do which types of work most effectively. It is helpful to start identifying each partner’s skills and roles early on; this also will become clearer as the assessment moves for- ward and people get to know each other. Examples of assessment work that require particular skills include:

◗ ◗ ◗

Planning and facilitating the meetings and group process Inviting and organizing community participation
Raising funds and identifying other resources


◗ Designing and implementing research activities
◗ Producing reports and other materials for distribution

Representatives of organizations that have an interest in the assessment and provide some staff time or other support will likely do the bulk of work on an assessment. Yet significant participation by community residents in shaping and implementing the assessment is valuable to ensure that it generates real change in the commu- nity, as discussed earlier in this chapter. Such community residents will likely have more limited time to con- tribute, and probably will be available only outside their regular work hours.

3. Planning the Assessment Budget and Mobilizing Resources

How much funding will you need to conduct your assessment? That depends, as discussed above, on the scope and scale of your assessment, as well as the amount of in-kind resources you can gather. Consider that resources will be needed to organize the team, to plan for the assessment, and to carry it out, as well as to support fol- low-up actions. Below is a list of major categories of expenses associated with assessments.

Categories of assessment expenses

  • ◗  Planning meetings (organizing, materials, record-keeping, site, refreshments)
  • ◗  Community outreach and participation (organizing, translation, payment for participation, reimbursement

    for expenses)

  • ◗  Coordination or support staff
  • ◗  Research personnel (research administration, instrument development, data-gathering, and data analysis)
  • ◗  Infrastructure (office space, equipment, phone line, copying)
  • ◗  Fundraising
  • ◗  Developing materials (writing, graphics, layout)
  • ◗  Dissemination (printing/copying, mailing, advertisements)
  • ◗  Evaluation
  • ◗  Follow-up actions

    All the above items could be provided in-kind depending on the assessment partners and their ability to commit these resources. However, in most of the case studies, salaries for research and production staff and the direct costs of administration were funded by grants raised specifically for the assessment.

    Possible funding sources for assessments

    Federal funding may be difficult to obtain for this purpose, although the Community Food and Nutrition Program3 has funded assessments in the past. The Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program4 also sometimes funds assessments if they are part of a broader program development process, and in the future may provide planning grants that can be used specifically for assessments. Community development block grants and food stamp nutrition education funds are two other potential sources. VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America)5 volunteers can provide staffing. At the local level, government agencies that address nutrition, health, community development, or other relevant areas may be potential funding sources.

    Community foundations can be a fruitful source of funds for assessments, given their planning and community involvement functions. While your local community foundation might not be interested in community food security, consider framing your assessment in other terms that match their interests, such as community eco- nomic development, public health and nutrition, leadership development, and/or democratic participation. Other private foundations with similar interests also may be a good source.


Funding and In-kind Resources Used in Case Studies

Case Study

Austin, 1994

Berkeley, 1998-2001

Detroit, 1999-2001

Los Angeles, 1992

Madison/ Dane County, 1997

Milwaukee, 1995-2000

The North Country, 1996-1998

San Francisco, 2001

Somerville, 1999

Funding Sources

Cash Value

In-kind Sources

In-kind Estimated Value




$125,000– $150,000



$24,000 (approx. $4000 per county)



Sustainable Food Center; AmeriCorps; VISTA


City of Austin; Travis County; Worldwise Design

San Francisco Foundation; California Urban Environmental Research and Education Center


San Francisco State University;
Northern California Food Systems Alliance; community advisors

Wayne State University

$12,000 summer research funds

Wayne State University; Hunger Action Coalition of Michigan

UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning


UCLA; Non-profit groups; community members

W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Madison Food System Project

$3,700 + printing costs

Madison Food System Project; U. Wisconsin- Madison Dept. of
Urban & Regional Planning

Wisconsin Food System Partnership; Kraft Foods Inc.


Center for Urban
Initiatives and Research,
U of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; printing businesses.

USDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Tuition and stipend for graduate student; $184,000

over two-year period

New York State Community Action Association Cornell Cooperative Extension

San Francisco Department of Public Health


Department of Public Health; San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners

Health and Human Services/Community Food and Nutrition Program Grant


Steering committee participants

This information was derived from surveys completed by case study contacts


Other funding sources can include:

  • ◗  Faith-based funders: Churches and religious or faith-based organizations often have programs that deal

    with the issues addressed by assessments, and can be a good source of funding and other support.

  • ◗  Other community organizations: Partner organizations or other supporters may have funds accessible for the assessment.
  • ◗  Fundraising events: It can be hard to raise money directly for an assessment through such an event, but partners may be willing to agree to set aside a percentage of the proceeds from their fundraising events.
  • ◗  Special funds from legal settlements: In recent years, legal settlements with corporations (e.g., tobacco, oil, anti-trust suits) have made funding available for community initiatives. These funds often are not well publicized, and may be housed in relatively unlikely domains such as the Attorney General’s Office or a county agency.

    In-kind resources

    Non-cash or in-kind resources are a staple of Community Food Assessments. They can significantly reduce overall cash costs while reinforcing the collaborative nature of the assessment process. Following are some common types of in-kind contributions:

    • ◗  Participation in the assessment coordinating body and/or other decision-making committees or meetings
    • ◗  Personnel time from participating organizations to perform assessment-related tasks
    • ◗  Student and faculty time for research assistance
    • ◗  Access to other academic resources in the form of databases, computer mapping, and library resources
    • ◗  Access to office-related support, such as desk space, copying, supplies, telephone, and Internet
    • ◗  Administrative time and expertise in the form of financial management, fiscal sponsorship, event hosting,

      and program planning

      Sources of in-kind support can be found throughout the community. They include assessment partners, community members and businesses, and volunteer organizations such as AmeriCorps and VISTA, which can provide substantial help with data collection and community organizing. Colleges and universities can be excel- lent partners, with both academic professionals and students involved in carrying out components of the assess- ment. For example, the influential Seeds of Change study in Los Angeles and Fertile Ground in Madison were conducted primarily by graduate students. (See sidebar in section 1 of this chapter.)

      4. Planning the Assessment Research

      The assessment goals your group identified earlier will provide the foundation for your research plan. You also will need to decide what questions your research will address, what kind of data you will collect, and what methods you will use. This process will be shaped by practical considerations of time and resources. Data take time to collect, assemble, and analyze, and some data may require intensive effort to obtain. You’ll need to decide how to focus the information-gathering to get the most mileage toward your goals. As the research options become clearer, you may need to revisit your goals.

      Your assessment research plan should answer the following questions:

    • ◗  What questions or indicators emerge from the goals identified for your assessment? (The breadth of your questions will suggest the scope of your research.)
    • ◗  What geographic boundaries make sense for each question or indicator you wish to investigate?
    • ◗  What is the scale of your research project? Will it be relatively small, involving simply compilation and

      analysis of existing data? Or will it include collection and analysis of original information)?

    • ◗  What research skills and other resources are available or can be mobilized?


This section will explore these issues briefly. Chapter 5 will discuss research questions, methods, and data sources in greater depth. We encourage you to acquire the USDA’s Community Food Assessment Toolkit6 for more information on some kinds of assessment methods. Early on in the research planning, you may want to review previous assessments done in other communities, or other relevant research on your community’s food system. The case studies in this guide provide a good starting point; additional assessment reports are listed in the Resource List in Appendix 6.

Deciding the scope of your assessment: what topics to research

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make as you formulate your research plan is what areas of the food sys- tem you will examine. Will the scope of your research be relatively broad, covering a diverse range of commu- nity food issues, or will it focus on one or two specific issues? These decisions will emerge from the clarifica- tion of goals and interests by your team, and will become more concrete as you discuss resource and time avail- ability and access to information.

For example, your assessment questions may focus on evaluating food access in a low-income neighborhood and identifying existing and potential sources of fresh, nutritious food in this area. This would involve a fairly focused scope of questions touching on mostly food distribution and consumption issues. However, if your group decides to gather information on many more aspects of the food system and their links to various com- munity objectives (such as health, environmental sustainability, equity), the scope will be much broader. In addition to food-related topics, you probably will want to assemble and present some background information on your community’s population, economy, and resources.

As you start discussing the details of your research plan, your group may need to consider bringing in addi- tional members who have knowledge and skills that you will need. As additional members enter the process, you may have to revisit the goals and research plan in order to bring new members up to speed and enable them to contribute ideas.

Sample List of Basic Community Indicators That May be Addressed by Your Assessment

  • ◗  Community and household demographics
  • ◗  Labor statistics (unemployment and under-employment, wage-levels, types of jobs)
  • ◗  Local/regional agriculture (amounts and value of crops, sustainability, farmland loss)
  • ◗  Community food assets/resources (grocery stores, food processing facilities, community gardens)
  • ◗  Local employment and sales, in food retail, manufacture, and wholesale
  • ◗  Community-based organizations involved in food issues
  • ◗  Food and nutrition resources and services
  • ◗  Incidence of hunger and food insecurity
  • ◗  Incidence of diet-related illnesses, and resulting mortality and costs
  • ◗  Local policies related to food issues (preserving agricultural land, promoting small businesses, attracting supermarkets)

Defining the boundaries of your assessment community

As we saw in Chapter 3, focusing on a specific geographical area is a fundamental element of the Community Food Assessment. What are the appropriate physical boundaries for an assessment? Geographically, a “community” can mean any grouping of people who live and/or work together in the same physical area such as a neighborhood or city.

In practice, an assessment can be carried out in any community or combination of communities, a neighbor- hood, town or city, metropolitan area or county, or multi-county region. It can use more practical boundaries


Case Study Communities

In the assessments profiled in Chapter 3, the targeted communities range broadly:

  • ◗  A particular combination of census tracts or zip codes chosen for their relevance to food access, nutrition,

    etc. (Detroit)

  • ◗  A part of a city with a predominantly low-income population (East Austin, West and South Berkeley, South Central Los Angeles, Madison’s near north and near south sides, San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point)
  • ◗  Entire cities (Detroit, Los Angeles, Madison, Somerville)
  • ◗  Entire counties (Dane County, Milwaukee County)
  • ◗  A combination of counties or a region (North Country, Southeastern Michigan)

such as census tracts or zip codes. It may also focus on specific populations within a defined area, e.g. low- income seniors or families with young children. Depending on the questions you research and the availability of data sources, you may even draw different geographic boundaries for different questions.

Community boundaries can be classified in four ways: political, service, cultural or social, and environmental. Most of the assessments described in Chapter 3 include more than one of these categories.

  1. Political or jurisdictional boundaries

    This is probably the most common type of designation used in Community Food Assessments, and offers clear benefits. Most data are gathered and reported based on political boundaries such as a neighborhood, city, or county. Such boundaries also provide a defined framework for policy advocacy.

  2. Service designations

    There also are many types of service designations for geographic areas, including school districts, voting precincts, census tracts, and enterprise zones. These
    boundaries lend themselves to the collection of certain
    kinds of data, but may make it more difficult to collect

    other data or to advocate for broader policy changes.

  3. Ethnic/cultural/social boundaries

    Often neighborhoods have cultural boundaries that are not officially designated, but are widely recognized by community residents. They can be based on the ethnic heritage of the residents, as with Chinatown or the French Quarter. Such boundaries may help encourage community involvement, but they probably will not match with data collection boundaries or with political jurisdictions.

  4. Environmental boundaries

    Environmental landmarks can make for appropriate community boundaries, especially when residents recognize them as such. These landmarks could be a river, a mountain range, or in urban settings a freeway. Foodsheds, watersheds, and bioregions also can provide boundaries for assessments or for food system planning. However, environmental boundaries tend not to match with data collection boundaries or with political jurisdictions.

Considerations in Choosing Community Boundaries

  • ◗  What boundaries are suggested by your assessment purposes, goals, and questions?
  • ◗  What kinds of data do you anticipate being central to your study, and what boundaries are associated with those data?
  • ◗  What’s the appropriate scale of study area to encourage community participation, and where is there good potential for such par- ticipation?
  • ◗  Do you want to focus on particular ethnic and socio-economic groups, or a mix of groups?
  • ◗  How does the community define its own boundaries? Is there a cohesive community sense within certain boundaries?
  • ◗  Where do you expect to conduct follow-up activities once the assessment is completed?
  • ◗  Is the community representative of larger trends in the region?


Defining the scale of your research

Among the first questions assessment organizers tend to ask are: how big does the study have to be, and how much time and money will it require? The answer is: it depends on the scope and scale of your project, and the skills and resources your group is able to mobilize. We discussed issues of scope previously in this section. Assessments can be implemented on a wide variety of scales, from a comprehensive study involving dozens of graduate student researchers and a $200,000 in-kind budget, to a much more modest analysis of food access in a small neighborhood. In general, covering a broad range of community food issues, conducting significant original research, and/or facilitating extensive community participation all will tend to increase the scale of the project.

A key factor that will determine the scale of the research will be how much of your assessment is based on existing data sources and how much original data-gathering you do. Most assessments will contain some combination of original (primary) and existing (secondary) data analysis. The char- acteristics and advantages and disadvantages of each are discussed in Appendix 4. In general, the more primary data-gathering in your assessment, the longer it will take, and the more skills and resources will be needed for planning and conducting data-gathering, analysis, and presentation.

Additionally, assessments that involve extensive community participation in planning and implementation also tend to require more time and resources. This participation also can bring many benefits, as discussed in section 1 of this chapter.

No one has unlimited time and resources, and Community Food Assessments are action-oriented, so you will need to find a balance between doing a study that is appropriately comprehensive in scope and broad in its scale, while staying within resource constraints and moving the process forward to generate recommendations and action. Finding this bal- ance is one of the central challenges in conducting an assessment. Fortunately, it is quite possible to conduct an assessment that is relatively small-scale and low-budget, but still generates important results. For example, the East Austin assessment (described in Chapter 3) was conducted in only eight months and with fairly modest resources, yet it generated impressive outcomes, including complete renovation of a grocery store in the neighborhood, a new bus route from the Eastside to the two biggest supermarkets, and establishment of a food policy council with in-kind sup- port from the city and county.

The scale of your assessment also may depend on how quickly you need to produce results, and the commitment of your group to do an in-depth, longer-term assessment. One

Rapid Community Food Assessment

This process is designed to gather community input on a limited set of questions fairly quick- ly, and can be used as a basis for organizing change actions. It is important to carefully frame questions that are broad enough to cap- ture a range of responses, but also specific in their language and purpose. With some advance planning, rapid assessments can gen- erate data, analysis, and action recommenda- tions in one collective exercise.

For example, you could organize three or four sessions to be held at a local school, commu- nity center, food pantry, and/or a farmers’ mar- ket. Each session could ask a few questions that capture a range of community concerns, which would be explored through a facilitated dialogue. For example, the questions might be:

  • ◗  What do community members do to get food, if they do not have adequate and dig- nified access to healthful foods at all times?
  • ◗  What barriers prevent community members from having adequate and dignified access to healthful foods at all times?
  • ◗  What resources currently exist to help com- munity members have adequate and digni- fied access to healthful choices of food at all times?
  • ◗  Who should do what to improve access to healthful food for all residents?

    Based on a discussion of these questions, your group may identify specific actions for change in your community food system targeted at var- ious sectors, including local government, com- munity-based organizations, or the private sec- tor. A rapid assessment also could generate products that include a brief report compiling the key points emerging from the dialogue; visual material such as photographs and videos; and other material that could be used in organizing actions, such as a petition or a list of skills in the group. It may be used to build interest in conducting a more compre- hensive Community Food Assessment.


strategy for those with fairly limited resources and time is to approach the assessment process in stages. A pre- liminary assessment could focus on gathering data to help identify needs, bring in more people and resources, and build commitment to go forward. It could compile readily-available data such as: basic demographics, poverty and car ownership rates, statistics on participation in food assistance programs, mapping of grocery stores, mortality and morbidity statistics, and so on. Once initial findings are assembled into a report, you could distribute it to local media outlets, policy makers, and community organizations. If there is sufficient interest and support, you could organize a coalition to develop a larger assessment and mobilize resources for it.

5. Planning for the Use and Evaluation of Your Assessment

Planning for the use of your assessment results

In Chapter 2, we outlined possible purposes and outcomes for Community Food Assessments. Earlier in this chapter, we discussed the importance of defining clear goals for your assessment. After you plan your assess- ment research, you may wish to revisit the issue of how you plan to use your assessment results to generate change actions. This issue is discussed at greater length in Chapter 6, but it is mentioned at this stage of the planning process for four main reasons.

One, it keeps your assessment research planning on track and tied to your group’s goals. Brainstorming about research can generate a wide range of topics and questions that pique participants’ curiosity. Many of these questions are intriguing and can seem central to solving community food system problems. However, when the question, “How are we going to use the answers to this question to accomplish our goals?” is asked, some research topics can seem less urgent.

Two, it is possible that as you discussed your assessment goals and research topics, other audiences or uses for your assessment may have surfaced. For example, if one of your group’s questions was to study the extent to which institutional food purchasers bought from local food producers or manufacturers, you may then want to consider representatives of these institutions as another audience for the findings.

Three, based on your discussion of fundraising and the need to garner in-kind resources, you may want to include new partners who might suggest additional uses for the assessment. For example, as you engage in dis- cussions with a local foundation, you may be requested to distribute the assessment report to all their grantees.

Four, discussing the many audiences for the assessment results and the forms it will take will give you a better sense of the funding and support you will need for dissemination. Costs of developing materials, printing and copying, and video or audio production can add up quickly. Planning and fundraising for these costs in advance will help ensure that you can successfully get the word out about your assessment results.

Planning for evaluation of your assessment

Incorporating evaluation plans into your overall assessment plan is important to ensure that you will have the information you need to assess and learn from your efforts. Evaluation of your assessment is valuable for many reasons. It can:

  • ◗  Help you assess whether or not your assessment delivered the desired outcomes
  • ◗  Help you make your assessment more effective, by providing feedback about both content and process

    along the way

  • ◗  Help you track impacts of your assessment, or the effects of change actions carried out as a result of your assessment

    Your evaluation can help you assess outcomes related to:
    ◗ How timely your assessment was; whether major activities took place in the time frame scheduled
    ◗ How relevant to participating stakeholders and community members were the decisions made in the


assessment (goals, questions, methods, change actions, etc.)

  • ◗  How efficient your assessment was in the use of money and other in-kind resources
  • ◗  Whether your assessment met your targets for dissemination of results

    Evaluation of your assessment process may include:

  • ◗  Participation of stakeholders and community members (and their satisfaction with the opportunities for

    and impact of their participation)

  • ◗  A sense of ownership and investment in the process
  • ◗  Individual and organizational capacities that were developed as a result of doing the assessment (such as leadership in representing community food interests, facilitation of groups, technical skills in gathering and analyzing data)

    Impact evaluation studies the changes in the community as a result of doing and implementing the assessment. These might include:

  • ◗  Increased knowledge of community food issues among community residents
  • ◗  Program development or improvement, or expanded participation in programs
  • ◗  Policy changes put into place as a result of the assessment
  • ◗  New coalitions or partnerships
  • ◗  Community development or food security improvement (e.g., improved access to food through grocery store or community garden development)

    Measuring impact is a longer-term activity, because creating change takes time and effort and it can take years for the effects to become apparent. However, your group may want to identify ways to monitor progress on par- ticular issues of impact.

    Categories of information to collect for evaluation

    Systematic data from the following sources can be valuable for assessing the process, outcomes, and impacts of the assessment:

  • ◗  Collection of demographic and other information about participants
  • ◗  Surveys, interviews, or focus groups of participants about their perceptions of their contributions to the

    assessment and the benefits of their participation

  • ◗  Review of documents produced during the assessment process, such as collaborative agreements, publicity materials, the research plan, and the assessment report
  • ◗  Observation of assessment activities to assess the quality of the participation of assessment members, deci- sion-making processes, collaborative work, and use of time and resources
  • ◗  Measurement of progress toward intended outcomes, including information gathered, constituencies involved, and findings disseminated
  • ◗  Review of change actions put into place following the assessment
  • ◗  Impacts on the community’s food system as a result of these change actions, to the extent that these can be


  • ◗  Collection of demographic and other information about community members affected by change actions resulting from the assessment



This chapter provided an overview of the major activities involved in planning for a Community Food Assessment. It emphasized issues related to: pulling together a broad team of committed participants, involving community members in the process, clarifying participants’ goals and interests, identifying sources for funding and other resources, and keeping a focus on the intended uses of the assessment. This chapter underscores the importance of investing time in planning in order to build a sense of shared purpose and mutual trust, and to facilitate activities that contribute to lasting and meaningful change.

  1. 1  Wilcox, D. 1994. The Guide to Effective Participation. Partnerships Online. http://www.partnerships.org.uk. (Date accessed: 3 Sept 2002).
  2. 2  Sustain: The Alliance for Better Food and Farming. 2000. Reaching the Parts…Community mapping: Working together to tackle social exclusion and food poverty. To order a copy of the report, go to http://www.sustain- web.org (Date accessed, 20 September).
  3. 3  United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Community Services. http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/ocs/cfn02.htm. (Date accessed: 19 Sept 2002).
  4. 4  United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Services. Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program. http://www.reeusda.gov/crgam/cfp/community.htm. (Date accessed: 19 Sept 2002).
  5. 5  Corporation for National and Community Service. Volunteers in Service to America. http://www.ameri- corps.org/. (Date accessed: 20 Sept 2002).
  6. 6  Cohen,B.2002.CommunityFoodSecurityAssessmentToolkit.Washington,DC:UnitedStatesDepartmentof Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/efan02013/. (Date accessed: 7 Sept 2002).



Designing and Doing
the Assessment Research

In this chapter, we will move from general assessment planning to more concrete issues related to designing and doing the research. As in Chapter 4, while these steps are discussed sequentially, the activities will tend to overlap in time. You may need to revisit some key planning questions as you go through the detailed design of your research.

This chapter is organized into the following sections:

1. Mapping Out Your Research Questions
2. Translating Questions Into Indicators
3. Using Primary and Secondary Sources of Data
4. A Brief Overview of Research Methods
5. Some Considerations in Ensuring Quality Research
6. Community Participation in Research
7. Assessing Food Access in Your Community: An Illustration

Additional information on many of these areas, particularly data sources and research methods, is included in the Appendices.

1. Mapping Out Your Research Questions

The research planning process described in Chapter 4 is useful for developing a prioritized list of questions your group wishes to answer through your Community Food Assessment. The answers to these questions will help you implement the change actions your group envisioned early in the process to achieve your goals. These research questions need to be fairly specific and compelling. They also need to be accompanied by a discussion about time- lines and the skills, capacities, and resources (both cash and in-kind) your group is able to garner. See next page for an illustration of how to develop research questions that are integrated with your assessment purpose and goals.

“What,” “where,” “how,” and “why” questions

The key questions raised by your group will attempt to accomplish various objectives related to examining your community’s food system. They may seek to answer questions related to the “what,” “where,” “how,” and “why” of the issues you address. The following list provides an overview of some of the categories of information your assessment may include in response to these questions.

◗ A basic description of your community and its food system, including a summary of any existing assessment research. This could include:

  • Population and household demographics and socio-economic characteristics (number of people and households, income, race and ethnicity, age structure, etc.)
  • Major food system activities, including types, amounts, and value of foods produced, processed, and sold in the community
  • Number of people involved in food-related economic activities, including agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing, and distribution
  • Number and characteristics of households that depend on government programs such as food stamps, free and reduced school lunches
  • Rates of food insecurity in your community as defined in the US Census of Population and Households1


Arriving at Assessment Questions

CFA goals or outcomes

What actions do you wish to put in place to achieve your purposes?
For example,

  1. Provide healthy food choices at sites where youth gather
  2. Reduce the availability of less nutritious foods
  3. Develop programs in community schools,

    day-care centers, and meal sites to

    educate youth and administrators about nutrition

  4. Create youth-to-youth nutrition training programs
  5. Educate parents about the benefits of nutrition

CFA purposes

What changes do you wish to make in your community’s food system?

For example,

• Develop healthful eating practices among community youth

CFA questions

What information do you need to help you achieve your goals?

For example (for #1 above),

  1. How many schools, day-care facilities, and meal sites are there in your community?
  2. What current practices exist relative to youth food consumption in these sites? What are their implications for nutritional health?
  3. What are the barriers to providing healthier food choices at these sites?
  4. What ideas do the youth and adults at these sites (and outside) have for breaking these (and other) barriers?
  5. What short term and long term actions might be taken based on answers to above questions?
  6. Who needs to do what to implement these actions?

Specifying these questions
may lead you to revise your CFA purposes or goal somewhat to ensure that it accurately captures your group’s intentions

Problems obtaining data might lead you to revise your question or identify alternative (perhaps less than ideal) sources or methods

Data sources and methods

Where will you get the information you need and by what method? For example, (for #1 in the above box),

School district

• Compile names and addresses of elementary, middle, and high schools, including contact information for administrators of cafeterias, free and reduced meal programs, and food dispensing machines

Local government child care

• Compile names and addresses of day-care agencies, including contact information

Local health and human services agency

• Compile names and addresses of summer food service programs for youth


  • ◗  A discussion of “how” different activities in the community’s food system take place; that is, looking closely at various processes related to food production, distribution, and consumption, and their links to people, policy, and programs. Research addressing questions in this area could cover:

    • How low-income households cope with food insecurity
    • How farmers try to develop local markets or increase the returns from their products
    • How food is transported to various types of outlets from production and processing sites • How supermarkets make decisions about where to locate
    • How farmland is lost to development
    • How households make decisions about where to shop for food and what to buy

  • ◗  An analysis of “why” things are the way they are in your community’s food system; that is, understand- ing the deeper processes in society that are affecting your community’s food issues. This is often compli- cated because many of these processes are hidden and intertwined with each other. Before studying these types of “why” questions, it is important to gather basic background information on the issue. Examples of “why” questions might include:

    • Why many households rely on government and private food assistance programs
    • Why many young people eat fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily
    • Why a large proportion of food sold in the community comes from outside the region • Why farmers decide to stop farming or sell off farmland for development
    • Why food service jobs pay low wages

    Reasons why respondents did not have enough food, Green Bay Wisconsin, 1999 (n=187)

    Source: Dethlefs, Kok, and Early, 1999.2

    This chart illustrates the explanations for food insecurity given by 187 respondents who had previously reported that they sometimes or often did not have enough food. Respondents were presented with a series of possible reasons and asked to identify those that contributed to their food insecurity. The most common response by far was “not enough money for food.”


  • ◗  A discussion of what community members want their food system to look like in the future. Different communities will have different visions, but examples might include:

    • Everyone has adequate and affordable choices of nutritious and culturally appropriate food at all times • Farmers, farm workers, and other food workers are able to make a decent livelihood
    • The community is able to make local decisions to influence their food system
    • A majority of foods available in community retail outlets are healthful and nutritious

    • Food system activities protect the quality of the community’s air, water, and soil

  • ◗  A discussion of possible steps to help move your community’s food system toward the vision articulated by your group, along with an examination of factors that will help or hinder these steps:
    • Increasing access to fresh and nutritious choices of food in low-income neighborhoods via neighborhood stores, farmers’ markets, and farm stands
    • Identifying retailers who buy from local food producers and processors, and encouraging the public to buy from these retailers
    • Developing salad bars and nutrition programs in local schools
    • Promoting local policies to conserve area farmland and support farming
    • Developing a local food policy council to bring a more systematic focus on community food issues over the long term

      Once you have identified key research questions, you will need to discuss and select relevant indicators, identify data sources, decide on methods for data collection and analysis, and discuss the details for dissemi- nating the results and putting change actions into place. Each of these steps will be outlined below, in the rest of Chapter 5 and in Chapter 6.

      2. Translating Questions Into Indicators

      Indicators are used to express, describe and/or measure the key concepts in your research questions. They are derived from the issues you are examining in your assessment. For example, if you are researching food access

in your community, the indicators you use to describe it might include:

  • ◗  Average distance to the store in miles from a particular neighborhood
  • ◗  Forneighborhoodswithlowratesofvehicleownership,timerequiredtogettothestorebyfootorpublicbus
  • ◗  The availability (and cost, yet another indicator) of food items needed to assemble culturally appropriate, wholesome diets

    Indicators can describe the existence, types, quality, or the amount of something of interest (for example, the amount of land under cultivation or type of stores selling food). They can provide summary information about conditions in the community (average time to travel to a grocery store from a particular neighborhood). Finally, they can help compare changes over time or across geographical boundaries (rate of farmland lost over the last 10 years; number of grocery stores per 1000 persons in your community’s various zip codes).

    Indicators help define a complex issue of interest, in practical, operational, and measurable terms. Appendices 2 and 3 in this Guide contain lists of possible indicators for examining a community’s food system and sources for this information. These lists provide somewhat different information and are fairly comprehensive, but they certainly do not include every possible indicator. They are provided to assist you in selecting appropriate indi- cators for the topics you wish to study. It is important to start with the questions and issues that are of most interest to your group and then design or select the indicators that best describe them.

    Indicators may be quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative measures for indicators are quite common, and often are expressed numerically to describe amounts, rates, or scale of something of interest, such as acres in food


production, or food retail sales as a percent of all retail sales. Qualitative indicators are more descriptive of percep- tions or experiences, and tend to be more narrative in nature. They require some creative and careful thought about how to best describe the indicator. Most Community Food Assessments done to date have included both qualitative and quantitative data, and we encourage you to include both in your assessment. See sidebar on qualitative and quantitative data.

For an example of a qualitative method, let’s say a group of youth wish to document the food wastes in local school cafeterias to spark community discussion about food practices in schools. They want to use videography for maximum impact among fellow students. Their method might include tracking food products through the cafeteria and interviewing a sample of students and cafeteria staff. Students and staff may need to be carefully selected from among the entire school population to minimize biases that might result when participants select themselves. The researchers may want to include participants who choose not to eat in the cafeteria at all.

The youth might list the following items of interest for video documentation:

  • ◗  The process of assembly of food into finished products in the cafeteria
  • ◗  The disposal of waste, both raw materials and cooked leftovers
  • ◗  Students’ preferred choices in food and products they would throw away
  • ◗  The disposal of plate wastes

    Quite possibly, students may uncover differences between various schools, and may be able to draw lessons, best practices, and recommendations for action based on this research. Even the process of videotaping may have the positive side-effect of raising the level of awareness among students and staff about food wastes, and generating a dialogue about how to minimize wastes and promote healthful cooking and eating (perhaps even before the video is developed and disseminated!)

    Selecting and designing indicators

    A standard set of indicators of community food security does not currently exist and is perhaps impossible to create, because community food security is determined by a complex array of factors, and because commu- nities’ food systems differ widely. However, USDA has developed a valuable Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit3 that provides templates for six different kinds of assessments related to community food security. (See sidebar on next page.)

    In addition to the six components included in the USDA’s Toolkit, we suggest that assessment organizers also consider the following general categories when developing or selecting indicators:

    ◗ Health and social impacts of food practices prevalent in the community
    ◗ Environmentalimpactsoffoodsystemactivities,suchasproduction,processing,distribution,andconsumption ◗ Contributions of food system activities to the local economy, and wage rates in food system jobs

Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Qualitative data elicit verbal, visual, and other kinds of information in the form of pictures or films, or written records such as field notes or transcriptions from interviews or focus groups. They tend to have a descriptive, process-orient- ed, and contextual flavor. Qualitative data in the form of personal stories or quotes can “put a face” on your assessment, and can be quite persuasive with policymakers and the media.

On the other hand, quantitative data may be essential to understanding and communicating numerical information such as the incidence, rates, or causes of well-defined phenomena or elements, such as the number of people with- out vehicles in a community, or the number of farms that have gone out of business in the past decade. Quantitative data are useful for developing statistical relationships between variables and for confirming and predicting relationships that are precisely defined. Numbers also provide a broader context for personal stories, and can provide a basis for comparison across time and space.


  • ◗  Proportion of foods sold locally that are produced and processed in the state or region
  • ◗  Local policies that link to food system activities

    The potential number and type of measures for any indicator could vary substantially. For example, for an indicator as seemingly straightforward as food stamp use, measures could include:

  • ◗  The total value of food stamps received in the last year; and changes over the past five or 10 years
  • ◗  The number of food stamp recipients in the last year; and changes over the past five or 10 years
  • ◗  Actual food stamp enrollment; and its value relative to total estimated eligibility for enrollment
  • ◗  Characteristics of people using food stamps; especially the relative use of food stamps by traditionally under- served constituencies (immigrants, elders, etc.)
  • ◗  Characteristics of those receiving food stamps relative to those most in need of them (for example, food stamp use in relation to food security/hunger status of households)
  • ◗  Changes in food stamp eligibility and in other regulations that affect eligibility over the past two years
  • ◗  Locations of food stamp office(s) relative to neighbor- hoods where households in need predominate; and hours of service
  • ◗  Extent of awareness of food stamp availability among eligible residents
  • ◗  Barriers to access—regulations, language, office location, and hours of operation
  • ◗  Projected changes in future food stamp usage
  • ◗  Current food stamp outreach efforts and links to other social service and anti-hunger programs
  • ◗  Level of use of food stamps at farmers’ markets and farm stands
  • ◗  Presence or absence of nutrition education linked to food stamp availability

    A combination of measures like these can shape a comprehensive assessment of the food stamp program in a community, but not all the data may be readily available, and they could be costly and time-consuming to col- lect from scratch. Your decisions on which measures to select could be based partly on the level of priority of having that information, and on the availability and ease of obtaining such data. Given the wide range of pos- sible indicators, it will be crucial to clearly prioritize your overall goals, which will inform the key questions you want to address, which in turn will help you prioritize and limit the indicators your assessment examines. As you choose or develop indicators, it may be useful to keep careful notes on the strengths and weaknesses of your choices in relation to your overall assessment purposes.

    Developing a precise measure of conditions can be quite challenging. Sometimes the professional literature pro- vides guidance; for example, the Nutrition Screening Initiative Checklist4 is a broadly used screening tool for assessing elderly persons at nutritional risk. The USDA provides a scientifically validated, quantitative measure of household food security that is included in the Toolkit described in the previous sidebar.

Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit

In 2002, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit that provides practical measurement tools for assessing various aspects of community food security. It includes a general guide to community assess- ment, and focused materials for examining six basic assessment components:

  1. Profile of community socioeconomic and demographic characteristics
  2. Profile of community food resources
  3. Assessment of household food security
  4. Assessment of food resource accessibility
  5. Assessment of food resource availability

    and affordability

  6. Assessment of community food production


The Toolkit also includes practical data collection tools such as focus group guides, a food store survey instrument, and secondary data sources. It is designed for use by com- munity-based nonprofit organizations and business groups, local government officials, private citizens, and community planners.

The Toolkit can be downloaded from the USDA’s Economic Research Service website at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/efan02013/.


Criteria for selecting or developing indicators

The following are some questions and criteria that you may want to consider as you select or develop indica- tors. You may also want to return to these criteria after you have identified indicators to confirm that they accu- rately reflect the goals and purposes of your group.

1. What does your group want to assess?

The indicators you select or design are the tools that help you answer your assessment questions. These questions, in turn, will help you achieve your group’s goals and purposes. The same questions that were raised for the design of your research in Chapter 4, therefore, are also relevant for the selection or design of indicators. This process has been discussed in the previous chapter and earlier in this chapter.

Whatever specific questions your group is exploring, your assessment will be well-served to start with a basic social, economic, and demographic analysis of your community. Information in these categories is reg- ularly collected and made available by government agencies. This is fundamental to gaining a better under- standing of the overall context of the assessment. (See list in Section 1 of this chapter.)

2. How much data do you need for your purposes?

Developing a complete assessment of a community’s food security and/or its food system is impractical and probably even unattainable. Given limited resources and time frames, the assessment team needs to identify a practical number of indicators and measures for them. How much data you need to collect depends on what would help you answer your questions, how much information already is available, and what resources you have. It also will depend on your overall purposes—persuading people to change their behaviors, advocating for new policies, or designing new programs.

  1. Can you rely on sources of data that already are available to answer a significant proportion of your questions?

    Many types of data are available on a regular basis from a variety of private, public, and nonprofit sources. If most of your questions can be answered through data obtained from these (secondary) sources, then iden- tifying and selecting your indicators will be easier, because they will already have been defined by the insti- tutions that collected the data. You may need to review these definitions to make sure that they accurately capture the information you seek. For example, the US Census of Agriculture provides numbers of farms in different kinds of production at the county level, based on a particular definition of “farm.” If this definition and the data provided adequately meet your needs, you could rely on this existing source.

    However, in other cases you may want to develop your own indicators. For example, no database current- ly exists that captures the following type of food retail operation: “a food store that sells all the ingredients needed to assemble at least five different types of healthy meals in accordance with the food guide pyramid.” In attempting to map a particular type of food store, you may need to combine different indicators and use a variety of methods and data sources.

  2. If you answered yes to #3, are the data of sufficient quality, appropriate for your time/place needs, and easily accessible?

    If the available data are complete and reliable, are available for your desired time frame and up-to-date, and are broken down for the geographic boundaries of interest to you, then you may be able to use the existing indicators.

    However, sometimes available data may require expert assistance to process that may not be readily avail- able to your group. Alternatively, some data collected by public agencies may not be easily available for your use because of privacy concerns. In these cases, you may need to develop simpler indicators from scratch. Also, some data are collected once every ten years (such as the Census of Population). If you are close to the end of the ten-year period, but cannot wait until updated official data are available, you may need to use recent estimates rather than outdated census figures.


5. If you need to collect original data, what resources and expertise are you able to gather, and what is the time frame?

If you have to collect a lot of data from scratch, you will have to spend some time and effort developing the indicators for your research. Depending on the amount of time and the level of resources you have, you may need to simplify your questions to a few basic indicators. Information on these indicators may then come from original research such as interviews, surveys, document analysis, or geo-mapping.

3. Using Primary and Secondary Sources of Data

As your group clarifies your assessment questions and resulting indicators, you will need to determine how and where to get the data you need. Some of these issues have been discussed in the previous section. One of the major considerations is whether to use primary and/or secondary data sources.

Primary data are original information collected from scratch. Primary data may be obtained through surveys, personal interviews, document analysis, observation, visual documentation, or other approaches. Some primary data may be easy and inexpensive to collect, especially if members in your group are already involved with the topic; for example a list of community gardens or other food resources in the community. You will need to rely on primary data sources if secondary sources are unavailable or unsuitable for answering your assessment ques- tions.

Primary data can help make your assessment more relevant for your purposes and ensure greater originality and accuracy in dealing with issues of interest. Methods to collect primary data can help you interact directly with sources, seek clarifications and additional information as necessary, and gain a degree of flexibility while doing the research. They may also be educational and/or empowering for those who participate in the research, and may increase buy-in to the assessment process.

However, relying extensively or entirely on primary sources for your assessment may also require more resources and expertise than your group may be able to mobilize on a timely basis. Primary research also requires greater care in the design and administration of questions, and in the analysis and interpretation of results.

Secondary data are information that already have been collected, and usually analyzed and published or made available for public use. Secondary data are especially useful to provide broad descriptors of your community’s social, demographic, political, economic, and food security characteristics. Secondary data may be gathered and compiled by governmental, university, commercial, or nonprofit entities. Some categories of publicly collected information are not available to the public under any circumstances, in order to protect the privacy of individ- uals, but some that are not openly available may be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (1996). These days, a variety of census and survey data collected periodically by government agencies are available on the web. See Appendices 2 and 3 for information on basic indicators and their sources.

Existing data can be extracted directly from the original source or indirectly from another source. For example, US Census data can be found directly from Census Bureau websites and from government and privately pub- lished data sets. But others will extract some of this data and publish it as well. Your municipal planning agency may be an excellent source of census data for your community. A university research center may take census data and analyze it to provide additional details about your community’s population and trends that influence its characteristics.

Private databases such as Selectphone® Yellow Pages or Dunn and Bradstreet® business data are commercially available, and depending on your budget and needs, can be quite expensive. Selectphone® is available as a CD-ROM with yellow pages for the entire country organized by place, zip code, type of business, and SIC (Standard Industrial Classification—now changed to NAICS, or the North American Industrial Classification System) code.


Types of Data

Census data
(US Bureau of Census compiles and disseminates census data on a range of popula- tion, household, economic indicators)

Sample survey, polling data con- ducted by public or private entities

Membership lists, databases

Research reports, articles

Spatial information, maps

University Example

Research project reports on area job loss/gain based on census data

Researchers conduct cross-sectional (one- time) or longitudinal (over a period of time) surveys on dietary behavior

Extension agents use government or commercial data- bases to assess minority ownership of local farms

Ph.D. dissertation compares availability, costs, quality of foods in different types of local stores

Extension agent maps trends over last 50 years of farmland loss in a region

Government Agency Example

US Department of Housing and Urban Development distributes CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding based on popula- tion, poverty, and rate of overcrowding in housing

Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles costs of numerous consumer items to produce the Consumer Price Index

Department of Health and Human Services compiles list of stores accept- ing food stamps or WIC coupons

Government agency studies economic viability of small farms across the country

Regional council of governments assem- bles maps in popu- lation and economic categories to assist in regional growth management

Private, Commercial Example

Supermarket chain devises strategy for location of new stores based on census data on population density and income

Food manufacturers conduct market studies on product taste, placement, and packaging

Private companies compile for sale, directories of com- mercial enterprises, including food businesses

Private consultant conducts feasibility study of market garden within city boundaries

Food processor conducts geographic assessment of potential locations for a meat-packing plant

Nonprofit Organization Example

Social service or community develop- ment organization designs transporta- tion assistance program to serve low-income populations

Nonprofit conducts evaluation of nutri- tion education pro- gram outcomes of WIC clients

Nonprofit referral service compiles list of service providers related to food and nutrition assistance

Anti-hunger agency documents inci- dence of hunger and food insecurity in low-income neighborhoods

Community develop- ment agency maps stores most used
by community members for food purchase

Secondary data sources for your assessment

Secondary data sources for your assessment

This table summarizes the typical kinds of information that can be useful for an assessment and gives examples of uses of that information by different institutional actors. It is provided to help stimulate ideas of sources and types of information that might be useful for your assessment, and to help you identify potential sources that your organiza- tion might not ordinarily approach.


A comparison of primary and secondary data sources and the implications for your research is available in Appendix 4. Ideally, most assessments will contain some mix of primary and secondary data analyses. Due to the ready availability of much secondary data and the time and effort required to assemble and analyze primary data, assessments typically contain much more information based on secondary sources.

Regardless of the source of your secondary data, here are some questions that you may need to ask to ensure that they meet your needs and enable you to report your results accurately:

  • ◗  Who collected the data, how, and why? Voluntary filings, in which participation in a database or survey is voluntary, may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Lists generated by mandatory filing (e.g., government licensing) tend to be more complete and accurate.
  • ◗  How are categories defined and organized?
  • ◗  How often are the data collected, and when were they last updated?
  • ◗  How complete are the data?
  • ◗  What assumptions underlie the definition or collection of the data?

    4. A Brief Overview of Research Methods

    Research methods are tools with which you systematically collect primary data about a range of community food issues. Some will be more or less suitable for your group, and there is no formula for the selection of par- ticular methods. They should be selected based on:

  • ◗  The nature of the question and the kind of information desired
  • ◗  Your purposes in gathering the information, and the amount and detail you will need to make your case,

    persuade others, and facilitate decisions

  • ◗  The time, expertise, and resources you have at hand

    We urge you to select methods with a view to encouraging broad and meaningful community participation in your Community Food Assessment planning and implementation. These issues are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4 and in the final section of this chapter.

    Appendix 5 presents a range of methods your assessment could use to obtain information and briefly discuss- es their strengths and limitations in a table. These methods are commonly used in Community Food Assessments; many can be designed and implemented with minimal training prior to the implementation of the research. They are:

    ◗ Informal interview
    ◗ Survey interview
    ◗ Semi-structured interview
    ◗ Standardized open-ended interview ◗ Focus group interview
    ◗ Key informant interview
    ◗ Community meeting/ hearing
    ◗ Direct observation
    ◗ Participant observation
    ◗ Document analysis
    ◗ Photo documentation


◗ Photo novella
◗ Community asset/problem mapping

More details on how to implement these methods are available from sources included in the Resource List in Appendix 6. The USDA Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit is a good source for detailed information on selected methods appropriate for assessments (see sidebar in section 2).

Data collected through the methods described above will need to be processed, analyzed, and summarized to surface the study’s findings and prepare them for dissemination. A discussion of techniques for analyzing different types of data is beyond the scope of this guide. We encourage readers to refer to the resources on this subject included in Appendix 6.

Reporting and disseminating research results also are essential parts of the assessment process, and are dis- cussed in Chapter 6. It is important to consider the audiences and ultimate uses for your assessment informa- tion when planning the research.

5. Some Considerations in Ensuring Quality Research

In collecting primary data, your research team will need to consider issues such as relevance (do the questions capture what is relevant or meaningful to your group?), accuracy (do the findings truly reflect real-world con- ditions?), and generalizability (do the responses apply to a larger population than the group who participated in the study?). Here are some general guidelines for thinking about methods and techniques that are appropri- ate for your assessment.

  1. There is no one right way to see an issue, pose a question, or evaluate a response.

    Every method has strengths and weaknesses that affect the quality and usability of the information generat- ed, and it is important to identify these before it is used. Appendix 5 lists some strengths and weaknesses of common data-gathering techniques.

  2. There are many approaches to getting the information you seek.

    Generally speaking, the more questions you ask about a topic and the greater the variety of sources and techniques you employ to gather the information, the more valid information you will gather and the more confidence you will have in your conclusions.

  3. Be sensitive to establishing trust and communication with community members who provide information.

    Asking people to provide information about their food habits or food insecurity issues can be delicate. Community members are more likely to provide information candidly if they feel safe and comfortable. Consider how to help people feel at ease in planning how information is requested and who will request it, for example by having surveys administered by people who are similar to the respondents.

  4. Document in detail the methods you used for getting your information.

    Document the process of developing your questions; the sources that you were able to use; sources you sought but were unavailable to you; people who refused to participate (in the case of surveys or interviews); difficulties you had in interpreting the responses; etc. These details will help you understand your findings in the context of your process; provide you with a way of defending your findings should the need arise; and be a source of feedback if you find that the information you gathered was less than useful for your pur- poses.


  1. Be aware of the limits of your knowledge on a particular topic and state these limits openly and clearly.

    Does your information apply to some population groups, but perhaps or definitely not others? Is your infor- mation valid for a specific geographical area but not for the entire city or county? Is your information valid for a particular time period? When in doubt, you may want to understate rather than overstate the implica- tions of your information.

  2. Be aware of built-in influences or interests that you or your group bring to the research process.

    No person is objective, and every research question, even an objective-looking numerical one, has subjec- tive elements. Subjectivity is not inherently bad: for example it can be a reflection of deeply-held values and principles about the problem of hunger. However, it is important to consider and be prepared to discuss openly how your interests might influence or limit the research.

  3. Be careful not to be too invested in particular responses or findings.

    This is difficult, especially when you have some experience in the community and you care about particu- lar outcomes from the assessment. Keep an open mind and be prepared to be surprised by what you find. Whether or not you are surprised by a result, try to understand and explain it based on the evidence. Check and double-check your methods to make sure that the responses reflect real conditions.

  4. Be careful and critical in interpreting and using information collected by others.

    Know that claims of no evidence for something does not mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that no evidence was found by the party making that claim using the methods they used at that time. It is impor- tant to look carefully at the evidence when weighing some claims. Ask common sense questions, such as: Who collected the information, and how? Why are they making the claim? What does it mean? What infor- mation is absent? Are assumptions stated clearly and are they valid? Is there sufficient evidence to support their statement?

  5. Scientific evidence is not enough, by itself, to elicit action.

    Data do not vote or organize people; people do. If you need to create a change urgently, you are better off organizing your community to take action or to pressure those who have power to take action. Any infor- mation you have to help you make your case and persuade others is better than none, but advocacy may be at least as important for getting the results you need as the quality of your information.

6. Community Participation in Research

Active involvement of community members is important to the success of a Community Food Assessment, as discussed in Chapter 4. Community stakeholders and residents can play important roles in research design, implementation, and dissemination. Community participation makes the research more responsive to local concerns and more reflective of local assets, and builds community skills and capacities.

Community residents can bring important strengths to data gathering and analysis. These include:

  • ◗  Easier entry into the community when outsiders may be viewed with suspicion
  • ◗  A familiarity that helps participants feel comfortable and be more forthcoming in sharing information and ideas
  • ◗  Ability to understand local meanings and context and identify patterns that outsiders might miss
  • ◗  Capacity to build support for the assessment and to implement change actions in the community

    Community participation in research also can contribute to building knowledge, resources and capacity in the community that will have benefits far beyond the scope and duration of the assessment. These may include:


◗ Richer informal networks and improved communications ◗ Increased awareness of assets and needs
◗ A stronger shared vision for creating change
◗ Analytical and research skills related to community issues ◗ Community-based planning skills

◗ Trust and mutual respect

Chapter 4 discussed some general issues related to community participation that are important to consider in the research planning. These include planning ahead for participation at different points in the assessment and raising funds to support it; recruiting collaborators who bring skills in community organizing and outreach and multi-cultural backgrounds; and providing appropriate training to residents and other assessment participants.

Different organizational models exist for involving residents in research. Whatever the model used, it is impor- tant to devise means for the community to make recommendations to the planning group, to get feedback, to conduct research tasks, and to disseminate research findings. These can include tabling, community meetings, surveys, and taskforces. Additionally, techniques have been developed to do rapid, participatory data-gathering in a community after some planning and preparation. These include community mapping, rapid Community Food Assessment, open space technology, and future search. These methods are discussed in Appendix 1.

7. Assessing Food Access in Your Community: An Illustration

Below is a list of some key questions related to assessing food access in a community. After each question are notes on issues to consider in defining indicators and identifying potential data sources. This list is merely a starting point and by no means comprehensive.

Question 1: How many food stores are there in the city or in a particular neighborhood, and what types of products do they sell?

One key factor for developing indicators will be the definition of a food store. Is it store that might sell any- thing edible: gas stations, discount stores, convenience stores, etc? Or a store where people can buy a variety of food ingredients in order to assemble complete meals at home? The definition used would be based on your overall purposes and data availability.

There are numerous classification schemes for food stores. The retail food industry tends to classify stores based on product category, sales, employees, and/or floor area. There is no easy way to relate these characteristics to the types, varieties, and quantities of products sold. For example, an inner-city liquor store may sell many types of food and may have total sales that are comparable to a chain grocery supermarket. However, the store’s sales probably will include a much higher proportion of liquor, and the selection of foods they carry may not be ade- quate for home meal preparation.

The Census of Retail classifies food stores by code numbers (called North American Industrial Classification System or NAICS codes, previously known as Standard Industrial Classification or SIC codes). This system is useful in that it breaks down grocery stores by type (food stores, convenience stores, etc.), but it provides infor- mation only in the aggregate for cities, metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), or other geographically defined areas—not for individual stores.

Another system of classification is based on food licensing regulations. For example, the Michigan Department of Agriculture classifies stores based on the amount and type of food handling required, to provide the appro- priate food handling license. Community residents may categorize their neighborhood’s stores by other factors such as the types of products carried, or whether the store takes WIC or other vouchers or provides credit. No objective database exists that can provide accurate data in all these categories.


Mega grocery stores and High Poverty Areas

Figure 5-1. This map shows the distribution of larger grocery stores in the Detroit, Michigan area relative to census tracts with 30 percent or more of the population in poverty. Only a handful of stores exist within a half mile of high poverty areas, suggesting a significant food access problem for low-income households.

Sources for information about food stores include the following:

  • ◗  A drive- or walk-through of the community if it’s small enough (this will not give you information on

    trends over time)

  • ◗  Telephone Yellow Pages (different types of stores selling food may be in various categories: convenience store, liquor stores, pharmacies, etc.). Several private companies sell CD-ROMs containing Yellow Pages information for the entire country.
  • ◗  State and local government licensing offices (sales tax, food handling licenses, etc.)
  • ◗  Utility companies such as electricity, telephone, and gas providers.
  • ◗  Commercial databases such as Dunn and Bradstreet® Business Databases
  • ◗  Government databases such as the Census of Retail

    QUESTION 2: Are there supermarkets within walking distance of low-income neighborhoods? How are larger supermarkets distributed relative to high-poverty census tracts?

    You can identify “high-poverty” areas from census information (conventionally, tracts with 30% or more persons at or below poverty). Maps with census tract boundaries and basic demographic and population indicators are available to download from the US Bureau of Census at http://www.census.gov. Figure 5-1 shows a map of larger grocery stores in the Detroit area relative to high-poverty census tracts.

    In addition to poverty statistics, you also could select vehicle ownership rates and shade tracts with low rates (where 20% or more households are without a vehicle). Plot supermarkets on this map (manually, or with com- puter mapping programs such as Maptitude®, ArcView®, or ArcInfo®)5. Draw concentric circles of a half-mile


Mega grocery stores and High Density Areas

Figure 5-2. This map shows the distribution of larger grocery stores in the Detroit area relative to census tracts with population of 5,000 or more persons per square mile. Grocery stores seem to predominate in lower- density areas where large tracts of land are available for parking.

Source (for figures 5-1 and 5-2): Pothukuchi, 2002.6

radius (estimated maximum walking distance with grocery bags) around them. Are there shaded areas that fall outside these circles? These areas represent residents who have low rates of access to local supermarkets.

Another valuable layer of information would be to identify census tracts that are high or moderately high den- sity (households per acre). This would be helpful for understanding supermarket locations and characteristics in your area that typically are attractive to supermarkets. The Census Bureau website provides maps with density information that could be used directly or with some manipulation by computer software. Figure 5-2 illustrates this scenario for the Detroit area.

QUESTION 3: What percentage of local residents lack cars?

As more and more full-service supermarkets locate in suburban or ex-urban locations, people without cars are more likely to have problems with food access. The census is the best source for information on vehicle ownership and demographics, with data available by census tract or for the city as a whole.

Here’s one way to calculate rates of vehicle ownership among your area’s households. First, find the total number of occupied housing units in the census tracts of interest to you. Then find the number of occupied housing units with no vehicles available. For each census tract, using a spreadsheet program, you should be able to determine the ratio of occupied housing units with no vehicles available to the total number of occupied housing units. The higher the ratio, the greater the degree of difficulty residents there might have in accessing supermarkets. Figure 5-3 shows a map of vehicle ownership in the Detroit area, directly downloaded from the Census Bureau website.


Figure 5-3. Vehicle ownership in the Detroit area (1990 Census). Source: US Bureau of Census7

QUESTION 4: How well do the transit lines serve the food shopping needs of the community, especially low-income residents? Do people have to make a transfer to get to the store?

Look at transportation routes and the extent to which each one passes through or near supermarkets and low- income or transit-dependent neighborhoods. What are the distances between these neighborhoods and stores? How many supermarkets can be traced along the same transit route within a six to 10-mile length? More stores along a transit line likely indicate greater choice and convenience for residents using that line. Also examine the overall transit system. For example, do all transfers take place at one central point? This could mean longer dis- tances to supermarkets that are located further away from city centers, and imply more time spent making transfers.

Mapping stores and transit routes is a convenient way to glean this information if maps and related software are easily available. In practical terms, this information can also be discovered from talking with local residents who use public transit, or with transit operators or dispatchers who are familiar with routes and the community. For example, you could enlarge a map of bus routes and bring it to a community meeting of transit users and/or bus drivers and dispatchers. Transit users could then place thumb-tacks of different colors to mark supermarkets where they currently shop or would like to shop in the future. This could provide the basis for identifying stores that are well-served by transit, as well as stores that need greater attention by transit route planners.



This chapter discussed a variety of issues related to designing and conducting Community Food Assessment research. We covered topics related to developing your research questions and selecting indicators, emphasizing the wide range of possibilities and the need to prioritize based on your assessment goals and other considera- tions. We also briefly introduced research methods (with details in relevant appendices) and some considerations for ensuring quality research. We emphasized the potential for significant community participation in the research process, and highlighted the benefits of such participation. With the help of a concrete illustration, we also discussed specific questions, data sources, and techniques for gathering information. This chapter under- scores the adaptability of the Community Food Assessment approach to a wide range of issue areas and situations.






6 7

Nord, M., N. Kabbani, L. Tiehen, M. Andrews, G. Bickel, and S. Carlson. 2002. Household Food Security in the United States, 2000. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/fanrr21/. (Date accessed: 18 Sept 2002).

Dethlefs, T.M., A. Kok, and K. Early. 1999. Food Security Survey of At-Risk Households in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Spring 1999. Green Bay: University of Wisconsin–Cooperative Extension; University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, Social Work Professional Program.

Cohen, B. 2002. Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/efan02013/ (Date accessed: 3 Sept 2002).

American Association of Family Physicians, Nutrition Screening Initiative Checklist. http://www.aafp.org/nsi/ e-checkl.html (Date accessed: 20 Sept 2002).

Some versions of mapping software are available free of cost or for an affordable price from different sources. See http://www.esri.com. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development also makes available Maptitude at a low cost to enable communities to do geo-mapping. See http://www.hud.gov or call the housing and community development office in your city, town, or county.


United States Bureau of Census. http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/BasicFactsServlet. (Date accessed: 20 Sept 2002).




Putting Your Community Food

Assessment to Work

Once you’ve completed your assessment research, two key steps remain: disseminating the assessment results and organizing change actions based on your findings. These steps are crucial to achieving your goals and to making your assessment an effective tool for change in your community. Yet even before you take these steps, it is likely that your assessment organizing and research work already will have attracted significant interest and built momentum for creating positive change in your community.

Other assessment follow-up activities may include conducting an evaluation of your process and outcomes (see Chapter 4), and considering whether you want to do some additional data-gathering. And last, but not least, don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments and thank all those who contributed!

This chapter is organized in two sections:
1. Disseminating Your Assessment’s Findings 2. Putting Your Assessment to Work

1. Disseminating Your Assessment’s Findings

Wide dissemination of the assessment results is important for building a shared understanding of food-related needs and assets, and to foster broad-based support for change actions. There are a range of potential audi- ences, types of content, and forms for your assessment reports and materials. These are outlined below, along with tips for producing effective materials. Your team may want to develop several pieces that present the results at varying levels of detail and for different audiences.

The audiences for your report

Who is going to read the assessment report? It is important to consider who your audiences are, what infor- mation will interest them, and what forms will be persuasive to them. They may want a brief summary of results, technical detail, and/or an analysis of the implications of your findings for policy and program devel- opment. Hopefully, you already identified your audiences in the assessment planning process. New audiences also may have emerged during and after the research process. Audiences may include the following groups:

  1. Assessment partners, stakeholders, and participants

    Those involved in the assessment process—core members, stakeholders, residents, and others who provid- ed input—will likely be interested in hearing about how the effort proceeded, and what came out of it. You may want to distribute report brochures or other publicity material to anyone who ever attended meetings. A list can be compiled from meeting sign-up sheets.

  2. Other community-based or non-profit organizations

    A host of groups working in the community may be interested in the assessment results. Even if they do not work directly on food issues, the assessment may build their interest in collaborating on food-related issues, using the results to advance their community work, or perhaps conducting an assessment of their own. A list of these groups could be generated from suggestions of assessment participants, local resource guides, and requests from the groups themselves as news of the Community Food Assessment spreads.

  3. The community at large

    Community residents may be very interested in the assessment results and action recommendations, especial- ly if they already are concerned about the issues addressed by the assessment. Reaching the broader com-


munity is an important way to build support for actions and advocacy. It requires identifying how different sectors of the community get their information, which may include local newspapers, radio and television outlets (including community cable stations), special interest or neighborhood newsletters, schools, city agencies, and local libraries. It may be important to develop materials in several different languages.

4. Policy makers within and outside the community

Policy makers are an important audience for assess- ments, and should be targeted for dissemination whether or not they were involved in the process. Such outreach will draw attention to your assessment findings and may help you identify valuable new allies. Materials sent to policy makers should be brief and to the point, probably no longer than two to three pages, with information about where to obtain the full report. (See sidebar.)

Consider sending this brief document to all the elected officials in your area, including representatives at the county, state, and federal levels. You also may want to include leaders and appointed officials in government agencies such as planning, parks, and transit commis- sions. Key staff in these offices may merit additional contacts before and after you send along your assess- ment materials.

5. Academic and professional organizations

Faculty and students working in various fields that are
related to community or food issues, such as social
work, community development, nutrition, and agricul-
ture, may be interested in your research results. A list of
faculty to target may be generated by university players
on your assessment team, or by working with the local
university’s community relations office. If faculty and
students were not involved in the assessment, seeing the results and learning about the process may moti- vate them to pursue similar projects or to incorporate the assessment into their teaching and research activ- ities. Professional associations organized at the state or national levels may also be interested in the assess- ment process and results.

6. Private sector food system actors and businesses

Owners or managers of restaurants and grocery stores, chefs, farmers, representatives of trade associations, and others in the private sector may find your assessment results useful. The results might help them gain support for community-spirited actions they want to put into place, such as buying locally produced foods or composting food wastes. You may wish to write a letter briefly summarizing key findings and send it to such individuals, especially those who you think may be sympathetic to your goals.

7. Funders

As with any project, funders usually request reports on the progress and results of activities they have sup- ported. You will need to send a report to organizations that funded your assessment or provided in-kind

Tips for Communicating With Local Policy Makers

  • ◗  Identify the issue clearly, and state briefly why you’re concerned. Your experience and the assessment will lend supporting evidence. Explain how you think the issue will affect your community, neighborhood, or family.
  • ◗  If the policy maker has supported your cause or idea in previous decisions, let him or her know that you and others appreciate his or her past leadership on the issue.
  • ◗  If you want the official to take actions, clearly (but politely) ask for these actions. Volunteer your services as an information resource or researcher.
  • ◗  If your assessment issue has received media coverage, include copies with your correspondence. If it hasn’t, it might be useful to focus on getting coverage before approaching policy makers.
  • ◗  Restrict yourself to one topic in a letter
    or other communication. Summarize your arguments and make your recommendations on one page. Use your own words and avoid technical terms.
  • ◗  You may find it useful to consider potential arguments against your position and provide responses to them.
  • ◗  Communicate with lawmakers as a constituent, not as a self-appointed neighborhood, community, or professional spokesperson. However, if you are truly representing a particular group, mention it.



Checklist: Key Principles of Effective Print Materials

  • ___  The material is interactive and allows for audience involvement.
  • ___  The material presents “how-to” information.
  • ___  Peer language is used whenever appropriate, to increase personal identification and improve readability.
  • ___  Words are familiar to the reader. New words are defined clearly.
  • ___  Sentences are simple, specific, direct, and written in the active voice.
  • ___  Each idea is clear and logically sequenced (according to audience logic).
  • ___  The number of concepts is limited per piece.
  • ___  The material uses concrete examples rather than abstract concepts.
  • ___  The text highlights and summarizes important points.


    ___ The material uses advance organizers and headers.
    ___ Headers are simple and close to text.
    ___ Layout balances white space with words and illustrations.
    ___ Text uses upper and lower case letters.
    ___ Underlining or bolding rather than capital letters to give emphasis. ___ Type style and size of print are easy-to-read; type is at least 12 point.


  • ___  Visuals are relevant to text, meaningful to the audience, and appropriately located.
  • ___  Illustrations and photographs are simple and free from clutter and distraction.
  • ___  Visuals use adult rather than childlike images.
  • ___  Illustrations show familiar images that reflect cultural context.
  • ___  Visuals have captions. Each visual illustrates and is directly related to one message.
  • ___  Different illustration styles, such as photographs, shaded line drawings, and simple line drawings, are pre-tested with the audience to determine which is understood best.
  • ___  Cues, such as circles or arrows, point out key information.
  • ___  Colors used are appealing to the audience (as determined by pre-testing).


    ___ Readability analysis is done to determine reading level.

Source: Gatson and Daniels, 19881


resources. It may be a good idea to send brief material to other, similar funders as well, to educate them and help build support for Community Food Assessments and related work. This may help you to raise money for future assessments or for activities that results from the assessment.

The above groups are the most common types of audiences for assessment findings. Others may include: food writers in the media, national non-profits associated with community food issues, and scholarly publications that deal with community food or assessment issues.

The contents of the assessment report

Whoever your audiences may be, it will be important to develop a well-organized, readable, persuasive, and affordable document that clearly communicates what the assessment is about and why it is important to them. Every Community Food Assessment has at least one major “story” in it. Sometimes the story centers around a specific research finding or comparisons between different locations or across time. Telling this story persua- sively is important to build support for change actions.

Like other aspects of the assessment, the contents of the report should be derived from your broader goals. Given how much information your assessment has generated, it may be a challenge to decide what to highlight. You will need to step back from all the details and try to view your research findings from your audience’s per- spective. This task will likely be easier if you have discussed the findings with a range of stakeholders at vari- ous points in the assessment process.

In developing materials, it is important to consider what your audience wants and needs, as well as factors that may affect their ability to read, understand, and use your report. These might include time constraints, lack of knowledge of the issues, low levels of literacy, or cultural differences. The accompanying sidebar discusses prin- ciples for effective print materials. It was developed for low-literacy audiences, but most of it is applicable to general audiences.

The contents of your report will likely include the following major elements:

  1. An overview of your community and its food system

    This typically is a compilation of secondary data on the community’s basic socio-economic and demographic indicators, economic base, and food system activities. It also may provide general context for the study and comparisons to nearby or similar communities or to the state or nation as a whole.

  2. The story of your Community Food Assessment process

    This includes the elements of who was involved, how decisions were made, what outcomes were desired, what key questions were posed, how research was conducted, the resources that supported the process, and when the assessment was conducted.

  3. Highlights and discussion of the key research findings

    This should include the key research questions and a brief description of research methods and indicators. The narrative may contain quotes, vignettes, human interest details, photographs, and other features to increase readability and appeal to broad audiences.

  4. Recommendations for change actions

    This is a very important section, because it explicitly links your research findings to proposed actions, and identifies who needs to do what to make these actions happen. Often these links need to be spelled out because they may not be obvious to people who are not directly involved with community food issues. Clearly explaining the recommendations should make it easier for you to implement action strategies and rally community support.


Forms your assessment report may take

Reporting on your Community Food Assessment process and findings can take many different forms, depend- ing on the target audiences and the resources available. Generally, the most basic forms are written reports and media or policy briefs. If you have more resources, you may want to consider producing video documentaries, posters, comics, or study guides. Whatever format you use, it is important to allocate sufficient time and resources to generate the report, reproduce copies, and distribute them. Retain your originals in case heavy demand or additional resources prompt you to print additional copies. Below are brief descriptions of some of the most common formats.

  1. Written report

    A report allows you to convey the assessment goals, process, findings, and recommendations in some depth, and provides flexibility to include a wide range of narrative information and graphics. It is useful to have an executive summary at the beginning to summarize key points and provide a quick overview of the contents of the report. Additional copies of the executive summary can be published for distribution to audiences who may want more concise materials, and to keep dissemination costs down.

  2. Newsletter articles

    Organizational newsletters that cover food-related and community issues—especially of organizations involved in the assessment process—may be very interested in an article on your assessment process and findings. Their readers may already be engaged and active, and may be able to support your action recom- mendations. Newsletters may print what you write with little or no modification.

  3. Media briefs

    Written briefs produced for the media need to be concise, well crafted, and easy for a general readership to understand. Larger regional or national news media might adapt your piece to a more general article and inter- view key people for quotes and opinions. A similar media piece could be produced for radio and television, including interviews with key players about the assessment findings and their implications. News coverage can help you get the attention of policy makers and build public and policy support for proposed changes.

  4. Policy briefs

    Policies affecting community food issues are made at every level, from local to international, and policy makers can be a key target audience for your assessment. Policy briefs are designed to influence public offi- cials, agency staff and leaders, or other institutional leaders to take or support actions that you recommend. In addition to government bodies, businesses, private non-profits, and other types of organizations also make policy that affects the food system. Policy briefs need to be brief and to the point—no more than two to three pages in length.

  5. Research and professional papers

    Research and professional papers usually are shorter in length than a full assessment report but contain all the same elements, as well as some discussion of the study in the context of existing literature on the topic. They are targeted to the research and professional community, in order to build their awareness of Community Food Assessments and how they compare with other kinds of assessments.

  6. Resource guides or databases

    Much of the information gathered by Community Food Assessments is in the form of data summarizing con- ditions in the food system, such as the numbers of farms or the percentage of the population that is food insecure. Another outcome may be a list of community food assets, such as food pantries, ethnic food stores, community gardens, and nutrition education programs, along with information on location, hours, costs, and services available. Such guides or databases may be distributed to agencies that are in direct contact with the public, especially those providing referrals to people in need. Examples might include emergency assis- tance providers, churches, resale shops, and health and human service agencies.


7. Internet

The Internet can be an inexpensive and efficient way to disseminate information about an assessment. Besides reducing the cost of printing and mailing hard copy documents, it makes it easy to include photo- graphs and links to other sites (resources, organizations, etc.), and to provide regular updates. In addition to websites, there are many listserves focused on related issues that would be appropriate places to post a summary of the assessment.

8. Community presentations

Presentations to diverse audiences are a common form for disseminating Community Food Assessment results and encouraging follow-up actions. Presentations can briefly discuss the assessment goals, process, findings, and action implications. An oral presentation is generally more effective if it is supported by visu- al information in the form of slides, handouts, poster-boards, or transparencies that illustrate or summarize key points. A diverse team of presenters can reach different audiences effectively (e.g. youth, seniors, mem- bers of ethnic groups). Remember to leave enough time to answer questions and discussion, and if appro- priate to encourage participants to brainstorm about follow-up actions. This type of meeting is a good way to brainstorm and prioritize actions, build support, divide follow-up work, and/or gather more data and input.

9. Study guides

A study guide for students or community members is another way to promote learning and action based on the assessment. Such a guide organizes assessment findings by issue, accompanied by general questions about what other kinds of information are needed to understand the issue better, and what kinds of actions should be put into place. The same kind of instrument could be used in a condensed form to engage com- munity members in a dialogue in small groups or in a community hearing.

2. Putting Your Assessment to Work

The ultimate purpose of an assessment is to create positive changes in the community and its food system. These changes could take a wide variety of forms, including improvements in individuals’ diets and health, new or improved programs, better policies at the local level, and increased community participation and collaboration.

We recommend a planning process for developing actions that is similar to the one for planning the Community Food Assessment. If your group has a process in place with periodic meetings for major decisions related to the assessment, then planning for actions likely will represent a continuation of this process. In this case, the transition from the study to disseminating the results and implementing actions will be easier.

However, if your group has not met since the initial planning, it may be a good idea to reconvene and develop a plan for the change actions to build on the assessment results. Planning and implementing change actions will involve stakeholders and community residents in brainstorming potential actions, prioritizing selected actions, identifying and gathering resources for implementation, and allocating responsibilities related to imple- mentation. Hopefully, the assessment planning and research will already have built significant interest in and support for proposed change actions. This will be more likely if your assessment used participatory methods that involved a broad range of stakeholders.

Types of change actions

A wide variety of action strategies may emerge from a Community Food Assessment. It is beyond the scope of this publication to provide detailed guidance on these, but a brief overview of broad categories of change actions is included below.


1. Community mobilization or organizing

Your assessment may uncover information that could provide the basis for mobilizing the community on a broad scale. For example, you may have found that only a small percentage of households qualified for fed- eral food assistance programs are actually enrolled in them, or that supermarkets in poor neighborhoods charge higher prices than those located in wealthier neighborhoods.

The forms mobilization could take could include door-to-door canvassing, community meetings, petition and letter-writing drives, tabling in public places, rallies and sit-ins, and media alerts. Working with a broad range of community residents and people directly affected by the findings will help you reach diverse sectors of your community and build support for your cause.

2. Community education

Community education can involve different types of public dissemination of a message, including community meetings, local media coverage, public service announcements, photo novellas or comics, videos, or materials for specific audiences (such as brochures in different languages).

Materials and messages should be designed for broad public appeal and interest.

They may contain various elements:

  • ◗  Information on topics of general interest (e.g., “did you know that…?”)
  • ◗  Recommendations for changes in behavior to improve individual or community outcomes in health and well-being
  • ◗  Information about existing or recommended policies and programs, with an eye toward building support for future advocacy efforts
  • ◗  Encouraging public debate about issues of cultural, economic, or social importance (for example, buying locally produced food to support local farms and jobs)

    3. Public policy or legal advocacy

    Public policy and laws profoundly affect the food system, and may be significantly shaped by advocacy efforts. Advocacy may focus on the creation of new laws and policies, better implementation of existing policies, or the resolution of public disputes that relate to laws and policies.

    For example, based on an assessment of retail grocery stores in Hartford, Connecticut, the Hartford Food System advised the State of Connecticut’s Attorney General’s office not to permit the proposed merger of two grocery chains. The merger would have greatly reduced the number of stores in Hartford, causing signifi- cant hardship to area residents. The Attorney General opposed the merger as a result of this advice.

    Advocacy may be aimed at politicians (including candidates running for office), government agency officials and staff, or the courts. Advocacy also can target private entities like corporations and businesses to change their policies. For example, a major fast food corporation decided require its suppliers to produce chicken and beef more humanely in response to pressure from advocacy organizations.

    One innovative model for policy advocacy is the food policy council. These councils have been organized in recent years to track food issues, provide recommendations to policy makers, and monitor the effects of policy decisions. They can provide an effective forum for broad-based dialogue and action on local food issues. Food policy councils may be organized at the city, county, or state level, and can vary quite a bit in their mandates, structures, and functions, and in their relationship to local government. (See Resource List in Appendix 6.)

    4. Program or activity development

    Your assessment might recommend new programs or improvement of existing programs to address unmet needs or to harness existing resources more effectively. These programs can take many forms, including:


  • ◗  Physical resource development (such as incubator kitchens for job training in food processing, or grocery stores or farm stands in underserved neighborhoods)
  • ◗  Social services development (such as nutrition education for young mothers or targeting food stamp enrollment efforts)
  • ◗  Linking existing resources or services (getting school cafeterias to buy from local farmers; training public housing youth to work in community-based food enterprises)
  • ◗  Modifying existing programs to make them more effective (changing the hours of operation of food pantries to reflect the schedules of clients; or changing nutrition education materials to reflect culturally appropriate diets)

    The Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program of the USDA has funded a wide range of projects seeking to enhance community food security. Brief project descriptions are available from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service website: http://www.reeusda.gov/crgam/cfp/community.htm.

    Prioritizing actions

    As you identify possible actions that are suggested by your assessment, you may want to use the same priori- tizing process used for your assessment goals (see Chapter 4). The following questions are provided to help your group identify criteria for ranking possible actions. This list is just a starting point; your team may identify other criteria as you discuss possible actions.

  1. What is the extent of the problem or need?

    Your assessment research may have helped highlight the most pressing food-related needs in your commu- nity, based on factors such as the number of people affected and level of impact.

  2. What is the level of concern and support?

    A high level of concern among assessment stakeholders and the community as a whole will make it easier to mobilize action, as will support from other key interests or decision-makers. Similarly, consider whether there is broad agreement on the need for change, or whether taking action may be divisive.

  3. What will it take to make these actions happen?

    Every action you undertake will require time, effort, and resources. It’s important to evaluate the time and resources required for various actions in comparison to what is available. Also, consider whether someone is willing to take the lead in coordinating the action, and if others are willing to support their efforts.

  4. What will these actions accomplish and who will benefit?

    It is valuable to reflect on the potential impacts of proposed change actions and who the likely beneficiaries might be. This will help ensure that change actions are well thought out and appropriately targeted.

  5. Will the actions facilitate collaboration?

    Actions will likely be more effective in creating change if they provide opportunities for collaboration between diverse individuals and organizations. Building working relationships and identifying common goals will help build a foundation for continued collaboration in the future.

  6. Will the actions foster long-term change?

    It is valuable to consider whether a possible action will help you meet your long-term goals for creating pos- itive change. In some cases, actions that are somewhat more challenging to implement in the short term may go farther toward addressing your long-term goals.


Planning for a follow-up assessment

Your assessment may have generated a great deal of interest, excitement, and momentum in your assessment team and in the community. As you plan and build support for change actions, you may find new questions and resources emerging. This may be a good time to start sketching out a plan for another phase of assessment work.

Follow-up assessments may be easier to implement because there already will be a structure and processes in place. It will be important to get clear agreement from the assessment team to move forward, and to give par- ticipants who are not able to extend their participation an opportunity to step down, as well as giving new stakeholders a chance to join the group.


In this Guide, we laid out and discussed a broad set of concepts and activities related to understanding and implementing a Community Food Assessment. To conclude, here’s a brief review. We started out with a brief discussion of the current food system and the community food security concept, and introduced Community Food Assessment as a tool to help achieve community food security. We then focused on the Community Food Assessment approach itself, moving from its definition and characteristics, to specific case studies, and then to the process of planning and implementing an assessment. Finally, we ended with a discussion of how to disseminate findings and put your assessment to work.

Our intent has been to offer clear information about how to plan and implement a Community Food Assessment, which we hope will prove useful in your work. We have attempted to strike a balance between offering specific guidance and providing information that is flexible enough to accommodate a broad range of goals, interests, players, and approaches. We realize that any single publication cannot provide all the information and guidance needed to conduct an assessment. Some of that can be gained from the resources listed at the end of this Guide, and some only through experience.

We hope that you found this Guide useful in learning about and perhaps conducting an assessment. We wish you well in your efforts to enhance your community’s food security, whether or not these efforts include a Community Food Assessment. We encourage you to contact the Community Food Security Coalition to let us know about your work—we would love to hear from you!

1 GatsonN.andP.Daniels.1988.Guidelines:WritingforAdultswithLimitedReadingSkills.Washington,D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.


List of Appendices

1. Techniques for Participatory Data-gathering
2. Common Sources of Data for Community Food Assessments 3. County Food System Indicators
4. Comparing Primary and Secondary Data
5. Data-collection Techniques: Strengths and Weaknesses
6. Resource List


Appendix 1. Techniques for Participatory Data-gathering

Below are brief summaries of various techniques for participatory data-gathering, emphasizing how they relate to conducting a Community Food Assessment. See Resource List in Appendix 6 for more information.

1. Group consultation and listening sessions

This technique usually involves three phases that can be tailored to particular assessment situations:

  • Information, in which the facilitator explains the objectives of the consultation and provides the larger context of assessment planning
  • Analysis, in which the participants interactively provide options for assessment purposes and then in small groups, prioritize related goals and actions
  • Conclusion,inwhichtheresultsofthesmallgrouparedisseminatedtothelargergroupandexaminedbyotherswho comment on the ideas and priorities

    These phases may be completed in one long session, or in multiple sessions. Small groups then develop a report that incorporates comments and modifications to the assessment purposes, goals, and actions. The report could be as simple as compiling comments on butcher paper in view of all participants. It should also contain suggestions on how to implement the plan with available resources.

    2. Community mapping and modelling

    This process utilizes visual material to involve community members in an interactive dialogue. The focus is on developing a map or a model of the current state of the food system and the problems and opportunities inherent in it, as well as one or more alternative visions of a desired food system in the community. These models and maps tap into the daily experience of participants and help them express their ideas in creative, powerful ways. Through these models, participants are encouraged to discuss actions that are needed to achieve the desired vision for the food system.

    Maps and models can be saved as a record of the meeting, and can be assembled into a report or a more visual form that can be distributed in the community. The models themselves can be preserved for ongoing discussion and for participatory tracking of changes to the current reality or to the alternative visions. This method requires planning for the range of materials that might be needed to assemble maps and/or models. Aerial photographs offer one good place to start in developing a basic map of the current situation.

    3. Tabling

    Tabling at neighborhood grocery stores, community centers, and similar places can be an effective and low-cost way to inform the community about an assessment and to invite input and participation. Tabling targets individuals who are curious and interested in talking to the person operating the table.

    This method involves displaying relevant materials on a table that is staffed by someone who is familiar with the community and able to speak about the assessment. The materials and conversations with community members could meet one or more of the following objectives:

    • Describe the assessment process and its goals
    • Solicit input into the assessment goals and questions, or participation in the process • Collect specific information, through surveys or conversation
    • Convey the key findings of the assessment (if it already has been completed)
    • Encourage or implement actions such as signing petitions or open letters

    4. Open Space Technology

    The objective of the Open Space approach is to empower individuals and the group by giving them the opportunity and the responsibility for creating their own work. This is facilitated by a structure that builds on the energy, commitment, and shared leadership within the community, with less time spent on advance planning and logistics. The facilitator creates a powerful theme statement to stimulate people’s interest and to generate a broad discussion of topics that participants feel are important.

    On the day of the event, all participants convene in a large room and sit in a circle. Posted on one wall is an empty conference schedule showing available meeting rooms and times. The facilitator explains the theme and process, and then invites anyone with a topic to convene a session by reserving a room on the schedule at a particular time. Convenors then have a chance announce their sessions to the group.

    Once all the sessions have been posted and announced, people sign up for sessions. Successful sessions are commonly PAGE 87

held with as few as two people or as many as thirty. A common agenda for all the sessions is developed that includes goals, priorities, and action steps. After the sessions end, each convener is asked to present the highlights of their session and agreed-upon actions. Written summaries are then compiled into an account of the proceedings of the event, which can be done on site and handed out that day, or completed and sent out later.

If a follow-up process is necessary beyond what already is determined by the participants within sessions, proposals are made, discussed, and agreed upon. This can be accomplished in the actual Open Space process if it is long enough, or by a series of short meetings (perhaps by a sub-group) following the event. Once the implementation process is agreed upon, participants have an opportunity to briefly comment on what they have learned in a closing circle of the full group.

5. Future Search

The Future Search process is designed to generate a common agenda and a high degree of commitment to decisions.1 It takes considerable effort to determine participants, time frames, and tasks. It is based on social experience and theory, usually takes three days, and is structured around five general tasks:

• Reviewing the past
• Exploring the present
• Creating ideal future scenarios (five to 20 years)
• Identifying common ground (with the full participation of all members) • Making action plans (including public commitments)

The main features include an emphasis on values, and an exploration of the present and the past specific to the community and its global context. These are brought together through the facilitation process. Finding common ground among participants is an essential element. Any unresolved differences are left as such if they have not been resolved by the end of the process.

The North Country case study in Chapter 3 utilized this approach.

1 Weisbord, M. R. and S. Janoff, 1995. Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations & Communities. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


Appendix 2. Common Sources of Data for Community Food Assessments

This appendix lists some common sources for data that Community Food Assessments might compile. These sources are organized by general category for ease of use. Many sources, such as the Census of Population, are commonly used for different categories of information, so they appear in several of the lists below.

Where relevant and practical, we have provided the web-addresses of agencies that compile the data for public use. In some cases, we have indicated the generic name of an agency or department that might exist at multiple levels: munic- ipal, state, and federal. For example, every state and county will have a department or office dealing with public health concerns. For these, we suggest that you use a search engine, such as google.com or yahoo.com to get to the public agency of interest.

In many cases, especially the Census, data are available for downloading directly from the web. In others, raw data are processed and available in the form of published reports on agency websites and can be quite useful for specific top- ics or places of interest. Before you spend time searching for and downloading basic demographic and economic infor- mation, we urge you to contact your municipal or county planning agency. They may have compiled and analyzed basic population and economic data in ways that might be quite accessible to your group.


Demographics describe the overall community and its population make-up. They provide background for understanding and communicating community food issues, and include information related to population and household trends, race and ethnicity, age structure, and income.


US Census Bureau

FedStats (links to statistical data from Federal Agencies)

USDA Economic Research Service County level data
USDA food assistance statistics State and local government

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Town, city, or county planning agency



http://venus.census.gov http://www.fedstats.gov/




http://www.piperinfo.com/state/index.cfm http://www.hud.gov

Note: use a search engine such as www.google.com and enter the names of your municipality and state to get to the relevant website for the local planning agency.



Data related to the status of low-income or vulnerable populations such as young people, recent immigrants, and senior citizens may signal the extent of food insecurity in the community. This may include indicators as the number of homeless persons, households without vehicles, students eligible for free and reduced school lunches, or low-income immigrants who are also non-native speakers of English.


U.S. Census Bureau

Geographic data files for your area (streets, zip code or census
tract boundaries, poverty rates, etc)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Interagency Council on the Homeless

USDA Food and Nutrition Service

USDA Economic Research Service

Consumer expenditure survey

Department of Finance (Municipal, State, Federal)

Department of Economic Development [Municipal, State)

Department of Employment and Training (Municipal, State)

Department of Education,
Free/Reduced Cost Lunch/Breakfast Participation (Municipal, State, Federal)

Department of Human Services (Municipal, State, Federal) Welfare office (Municipal, State, Federal)
WIC office (Municipal, State, Federal)
Food stamp office (Municipal, State, Federal)



http://www.factfinder.census.gov http://www.census.gov

http://www.bls.gov http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/progsys/homeless/ich.htm http://www.fns.usda.gov http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data http://www.bls.gov/cex/home.htm


This category includes indicators specific to food and hunger at the household level. These may include household food insecurity status as measured by the Census, participation in food assistance programs, and proportion of household income spent on food.


U.S. Census Bureau
USDA Economic Research Service

USDA Office of Analysis, Nutrition
and Evaluation (for reports on food security)

USDA Office of Analysis, Nutrition
and Evaluation (for reports on food stamps, WIC, child nutrition, food distribution, nutrition education)

USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service

USDA Rural Cooperative Service U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


http://www.factfinder.census.gov http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/foodnutritionassistance/


http://www.fns.usda.gov/oane/MENU/published/Food Security/FoodSecurity.htm

http://www.fns.usda.gov/oane/MENU/PC2002/PC2002Data Collection.htm


http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs.index.html http://www.bls.gov


continues on next page



Food assistance participation

Food and Research Action Center

Public health department (Municipal, State, Federal)

Department of social services (Municipal, State, Federal)

Department of Education (Municipal, State, Federal)

Free/Reduced School Meal Participation (Municipal, State, Federal)

Welfare office (Municipal, State, Federal)

WIC office (Municipal, State, Federal)

Food Stamp office (Municipal, State, Federal) State food stamp information/hotline numbers

Department of Transitional Assistance (Municipal, State) U.S. Conference of Mayors
America’s Second Harvest Food Bank





http://www.ed.gov http://www.ed.gov

http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/MENU/CONTACTS/ hotlines.htm

http://usmayors.org/uscm/home.asp http://www.secondharvest.org/

This category includes indicators related to household dietary patterns, diet-related health status, and nutrition status of vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and elderly persons.


Government health resources

National Institute of Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Center for Health Statistics
(for selected publications relevant to your area or topic)

National Health Information Center, Health Information Resource Base

Office of Minority Health
Office of Public Health and Science

Gateway health links (Municipal, State)

National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus Health Information

Safety and health statistics
Center for Science in the Public Interest




http://www.cdc.gov http://www.cdc.gov.nchswww/nchshome.htm


http://www.omhrc.gov http://www.osophs.dhhs.gov/ophs

http://www.health.gov/statelocal/links.html http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus

http://stats.bls.gov/toop20.html http://www.cspinet.org/



This is a general list of sources for agriculture-related demographics and statistics. It includes sources for local/region- al and national information. Sources in this list could provide data on farmers and farmland, and a variety of indica- tors related to sustainable agriculture, including direct marketing links between farms and local consumers, Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, community gardens, and gleaning programs.


USDA agencies

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service USDA Economic Research Service

USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service

USDA Rural Cooperative Service

Local community garden organizations

National directory of farmers markets by state

Urban agriculture

State Department of Food and Agriculture

Local Farm Bureau

Local farmer organizations

National Association of Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs

Regional certified organic farmers’ organization Department of Agriculture (State, Federal) Agricultural search engine
National Agricultural Library

Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas

Community Supported Agriculture Food cooperatives

National gardening association Nonprofit gleaning organizations



http://www.nass.usda.gov/census http://ers.usda.gov/Data


http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs.index.html http://www.communitygarden.org/information/index.html http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets http://www.cityfarmer.org





http://www.prairienet.org/co-op/directory or http://www.cooperative.org/food.cfm



Conventional food systems are characterized here as businesses or other operations that produce, process, distribute, and market most of the food people purchase through traditional enterprises. We differentiate these from enterprises that focus primarily on local/regional production and distribution, unless they are clearly integrated into these main- stream operations. The sources listed below could provide information on indicators such as numbers of firms; trends in plant openings and closures; and employment, sales, and wages in agriculture and food manufacturing.


Economic census data

Census of Agriculture
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
USDA Economic Research Service
U.S. Department of Commerce
Chamber of Commerce
Reference USA
Food Marketing Institute
Consumer Federation of America
Consumer Union Office (Municipal, State, Federal) Regional Economic Information System
Center for Science in the Public Interest




http://www.nass.usda.gov/census http://www.bls.gov http://www.ers.usda.gov http://www.doc.gov http://www.chamberofcommerce.org http://reference.infousa.com http://www.fmi.org http://www.consumerfed.org

http://govinfo.kerr.orst.edu/reis-stateis.html http://www.cspinet.org/

The following provide information on emergency food programs and services, federal and state food safety net programs, and other resources related to food and nutrition.


USDA Food and Nutrition Service

USDA School Meal Initiative

USDA Food Stamp Program
State food stamp information/hotline numbers

Social security regional pages
Regional Medicaid offices
Department of Social Services (Municipal, State, Federal) Welfare office (Municipal, State, Federal)
WIC office (Municipal, State, Federal)
Food stamp office (Municipal, State, Federal)
Religious institutions and churches (Municipal, State)

Department of Education (Municipal, State, Federal) WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program





http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/MENU/CONTACTS/hot lines.htm

http://www.ssa.gov/regions/regional.html http://www.hcfa.gov/medicaid/clia/regionsof.htm


http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/content/FMNP/FMNP faqs.htm

continues on next page




Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Pilot Programs

Center for Science in the Public Interest




FMNPP/SeniorFMNPP.htm http://www.cspinet.org/

The following sources are useful in providing data related to transportation infrastructure and services, spatial access, and other transportation related to food system activities.


U.S. Census Bureau
U.S. Department of Transportation

(Lists of transit agencies by city, county or region) Paratransit and contracted services by state Public and paratransit information by county
The National Transit Resource Center

Community Transportation Association American Public Transportation Association

Listing of transit systems by state

Transit agency or planning board (Municipal, State, Federal)

Geographic data files for your area
(streets, zip code or census tract boundaries, etc)

Consumers Union Office (Municipal, State, Federal) Registry of motor vehicles (State, Federal)



http://www.factfinder.census.gov http://www.fta.dot.gov/fta/other/index.htm

http://www.taxinetwork.com http://www.dot.gov http://www.ctaa.org/ntrc http://www.ctaa.org http://www.apta.com http://www.projectaction.org/urlinks.htm


The local sources provide basic employment and economic development statistics, and/or information on promoting com- munity economic development.


U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau

USDA Office of Rural Community Development

National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning and Development

Department of Economic Development (Municipal, State, Federal)

Office of business development Minority Business Development Agency




http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/ocd/index.html http://www.natfed.org




continues on next page



Bureau of Labor Statistics

Major economic indicators Employment and unemployment Prices and living conditions Compensation and working conditions Productivity and technology

National Neighborhood Indicators Project

Employer Services Agency (State-level; for information on establishments that employ more that one worker)

Commercial Business Directories



http://www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm http://www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm#OEUS http://www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm#OPLC http://www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm#OPLC http://www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm#OPT http://www.urban.org/nnip/

An important subset in the larger category of community economic development relates to commercial directories or national “yellow pages” that contain selected information on employees and sales, organized at the level of individual businesses. Many offer CD-ROMs for purchase; most have their own websites that can be reached with the help of popular search engines such as google.com.

Cole’s Business Directories ProPhone Business Listing PhoneDisc PowerFinder
Select Phone Business Listings Dunn and Bradstreet

Harris Directory (for selected Midwestern and Southern states)


The following are some of the major sources of data on environmental data related to the food system, such as air and water quality, pesticides, food-related wastes in the garbage stream, and sustainable practices in food system activities.


Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

EPA’s Envirofacts (for statistical or map data) EPA, air quality information

EPA, superfund sites

EPA, toxic release inventory system (including data on pesticides)

Environmental health links
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

National Association of
State Departments of Agriculture

State Department of Environmental Affairs Environmental Health Office (Municipal, State, Federal)



http://epa.gov/enviro/html/ef_home.html http://www.epa.gov/airs/airs.html

http://www.epa.gov/superfund http://epa.gov/enviro/html/ef_home.html

http://www.health.gov/environment/ehpcsites.htm http://www.nrcs.usda.gov http://www.fhwa.gov/environment

http://water.usgs.gov http://www.nasda-hq.org

continues on next page


ENVIRONMENT – continued


Department of Water Resources (State, Federal) USDA State Research, Education

and Extension Service
National Library for the Environment

Solid waste office (Municipal, State) Sustainable Communities information database

Sustainable Development resource database





http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Environment/SCN/SCN_ commlink.html


These sources are useful for obtaining directories of policy makers, major past and pending decisions, and advocacy material that translates important public policy issues for action by ordinary people.


Federal and state directories of

congressional representatives
Current government policy
Food Policy Institute
Community Food Security Coalition
Center for Law and Social Policy
Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Food and Research Action Center
Publications, organizations, food policy councils Government representatives (Municipal, State) Non-profit organizations international directory Food policy councils
Food policy links
Hunger task forces (Municipal, State)




http://www.govspot.com http://www.consumerfed.org/fpi http://www.foodsecurity.org
http://www.clasp.org http://www.centeronhunger.org http://www.cbpp.org
http://www.frac.org http://www.ryerson.ca/~foodsec/foodpol/index.html http://www.congress.org

http://www.idealist.org http://www.census.gov/epcd/www/97EC44.HTM http://www.ryerson.ca/~foodsec/foodpol/index.html

The following are directories of media sources that typically include larger, regional or national sources. It may be at least as important to consider more local, community oriented media such as newsletters put out by local nonprofits or community access television. Such data may need to be obtained through local sources.


Directory of newsmedia in the U.S. Directory of newspapers in the U. S.


http://newsdirectory.com/ http://newsdirectory.com/news/press/na/us/



Many communities across the country are compiling data on a range of social, economic, and civic indicators and resources for their areas. These compilations are useful for obtaining data and other information about types of indi- cators that your CFA could focus on. At the bottom are selected compilations of neighborhood indicators available on the web.


Neighborhood organizations

(from Select Phone national yellow pages)

American Library Association

Churches, schools, cultural resources available from Select Phone yellow pages)

Schools (Check your local school district)

Neighborhood development corporations or centers (Check your local economic development agency)

Community nonprofits (check your local United Way for a possible directory)

Parks, playgrounds, community gardens (Check your local parks agency)

Public and subsidized housing

Local board of elections
(for voter records) (Municipal, State)

AmeriCorps /Vista volunteers in your area

Selected compilations of neighborhood indicators on the web


National Neighborhood Indicators Project (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Miami, Milwaukee, Oakland, Philadelphia, Providence, Washington DC)

Los Angeles (Neighborhood Knowledge LA)



http://www.ala.org/ http://www.nctweb.com/CDS/selphone.html


http://www/huduser.org/data.html http://www.americorps.org/



http://westphillydata.library.upenn.edu/ http://nkla.sppsr.ucla.edu./


Appendix 3. County Food System Indicators

Note: This template was developed for use in collecting data for a study of the food system in three counties in California. It can be readily applied to other areas, as it provides an extensive list of food system indicators with information sources for each, and most of the sources are national in scope.

Source: Feenstra, G.F. & S. King. 2001. County Food System Indicators. Davis, CA: UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

Indicator Population

State Population County Population

County Population as Percent of State Population

Population Density, Persons per sq. Mile

Urban Growth

Urban Growth Percent of County Population in Cities over 50K

Ethnic Distribution

Asian and Pacific Islander Black

Native American


Inflation Adjustment

Total Employment for the County

Total Earnings for the County

County Per Capita Annual Income

County’s Rank in the State for Per Capita Income


Number of Welfare Recipients (AFDC/TANF)


69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

88, 91, 94, 97

Demographic Indicators


Number of people in state vs. time. Number of people in county vs. time.

Percent of state population resident in county vs. time.

Number of persons per sq. mile average for county vs. time.

Percent of county population in cities over 50,000 vs. time.

Percentage of county population that classify themselves in each of the following groups: Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, Caucasian, Latino, Native American.

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

Number of people employed vs. time for census years.

Total earnings vs. time for census years.

County per capita annual income vs. time.

Rank of county per capita income in state vs. time.

Number of people receiving AFDC/TANF assistance in the county vs. time.


California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit.

California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit.

California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit.

Consumer Price Index data compiled by Robert Sahr, Political Science Department, Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Economic Analysis CD ROM .

Regional Regional Regional Regional


continues on next page

AFDC Caseload Movement and Expenditures Reports, Statistical Services Bureau, Dept. of Social Services; Compiled by RAND Co.


Percent of County’s Population Receiving Welfare

Civilian Unemployment Rate, Percent

Percent of County’s Population Below Poverty Line

Percent of County’s Families below poverty

Indicator Groundwater Pollution

Well Water Pollution, Average Nitrate (NO3)

Demographic Indicators – continued


Percentage of county population receiving AFDC/TANF assistance in the county vs. time.

Percent of county labor force unemployed vs. time.

Percent of county’s population below poverty level vs. time.

Percent of total number of families in county below poverty level vs. time.

Environmental Indicators


Concentration of nitrate in well samples averaged countywide vs. time.

Acre feet of water supplied by federal and state water projects to county for agricul- ture vs. time for ag. census years.

Number of farms in county using irrigation vs. time for ag. census years.

Total county irrigated acreage vs. time for ag. census years.

Total pounds of active ingredient* applied in the county vs. time for ag. census years.

Sum of expenditures on fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides reported under specified farm expenditures, ag. census years . Not graphed.

Total specified farm expenditures, ag. census years. Not graphed.

Percent total specified expenditures spent on synthetic chemicals and fuels for all farms in county vs. time for ag. census years.**


88, 91, 94, 97

85, 88, 91, 94, 97

70, 80, 90

50, 60, 70, 80, 90


89, 92, 95, 97


Calculated from sources on this page.

Employment Development Department, Compiled by RAND Co.

Calculated from County and City Data Book published by The Census Bureau and population data, this pg.

County and City Data Book published by The Census Bureau.


California Department of Health Services.

California Department of Water Resources.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

Department of Pesticide Regulation Pesticide Use Reporting Data com- piled by Environmental Toxicology Dept. researchers at UCD.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

Total Supplemental Water Use by Agriculture

Use of State and Federal Subsidized Water by Agriculture

Number of Farms Using Irrigation

Total Number of Irrigated Acres in the County

82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

Synthetic Input Use and Dependence

Pesticide Use, Total Pounds A. I. Applied

Expenditures on Fuel, Fertilizer, and Pesticides

Total Specified Farm Expenditures

Cost of Inputs as Percent Total Farm Costs

74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

* Excludes sulfur, inert ingredients, and organically acceptable materials.
** Calculated using total specified farm expenditures and summed expenditures on fertilizer, fuel, and pesticides.


Farm Numbers and Acreage

Number of Farms in State

Acres in Farming, State Total

Number of Farms in Placer County

Acres in Farming in Placer County

Percent of California’s Farms in Placer County

Percent of California’s Farm Acreage in Placer County

Average Farm Size, Acres

Number Farms by Acreage Size Class

Farm Ownership

Acres in Full Ownership Acres in Part Ownership Acres in Tenant Farming

Number Full Owners in County

Minority Farm Operators, Number of Farms

Agricultural Resource Base Indicators

Years Measure/Graph Source

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

No graph – used for comparison calculations only.

No graph – used for comparison calculations only.

Total number of farms in the county vs. time for ag. census years.

Acres in farming for county vs. time for ag. census years.

Number farms in county as percent of state total vs. time for ag. census years.

Acreage in farming for county as percent of state total vs. time for ag. census years.

Total acres in farming in county divided by total number of farms in the county vs. time for ag. census years.

As a bar graph with each bar containing one year’s distributions for 1-9, 10-49, 50-179, 180-499, 500-999, and 1000 + acre categories for ag. census years.

Acres under full owner, part owner, and tenant owner (3 lines on a single graph) in county vs. time for ag. census years.

Number of full owners of farms in Placer County vs. time for ag. census years

Number minority-operated farms in coun- ty vs. time, ag. census years.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

PAGE 100

continues on next page

Agricultural Resource Base Indicators – continued

Indicator Age of Farmers

Average Farmer Age

Organic Farming

Number of Organic Farms Acreage in Organic Farming

Land Conservation

Acres of Farmland Converted for Development

Acres enrolled in the Williamson act


Number of Farm Product Raw Material Wholesalers (Packers, Shippers)

Number of Food Manufacturers

Number of Food Wholesalers Number of Food Retailers

Number Food Servers (incl. Restaurants)

Number Farmer’s Markets

Number CSA’s
Number Roadside Stands

Years Measure/Graph Source

59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

92, 94, 96, 98

92, 94, 96, 98

86, 88, 90, 92, 94, 96, 98

74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

Average farmer age in county vs. time, ag. census years.

Number of organic farms in the county vs. time, ag. census years.

Acreage in organic farming in the county vs. time, ag. census years.

Acreage converted to urban or subur- ban development in county vs. time, ag. census years.

Acres enrolled in the Williamson act in the county vs. time for ag. census years.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

County Agricultural Commissioner Crop Reports.

County Agricultural Commissioner Crop Reports.

California State Department of Conservation Farmland Mapping Program.

California State Department of Conservation Farmland Mapping Program.

Food Distribution Network Indicators (U.S. Economic Census categories)


72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97


? ?


Number establishments in the county vs. time for economic census years.

Number establishments in the county vs. time for economic census years.

Number establishments in the county vs. time for economic census years.

Number establishments in the county vs. time for economic census years.

Number establishments in the county vs. time for economic census years.

Number of farmers’ markets in the county.


U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education System, UC Davis.

PAGE 101


Top Ten Agricultural Products

Top Ten Agricultural Products by Gross Sales

Gross Agricultural Productivity

Inflation Adjustment, Agricultural Producers

State Gross Agricultural Production

Gross Agricultural Productivity, County

County Gross Production as Percentage of State Total

Direct Marketing

Gross Receipts From Direct Marketing, all Types, all Farms

Number of Farms Engaged
in Direct Marketing, all Types

Estimated Dollar Value, Farmer’s Market Sales

Estimated Dollar Value, CSA Sales

Estimated Dollar Value, Roadside Stand Sales

Food Distribution System

Inflation Adjustment, Food Manufacturers

Inflation Adjustment, Farm Product Wholesalers

Years Measure/Graph Source

63, 67, 73, 77, 82, 86, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

78, 82, 87 extr., 92, 97

78, 82, 87 extr., 92, 97

1999 ?


72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

List of products produced in county ranked by gross sales, ag. census years since 1963.

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

State gross agricultural production,
all agricultural products. Not graphed.

Gross earnings from sale of all ag. products in the county vs. time for ag. census years.

Gross earnings from sale of all ag. products in the county vs. time for ag. census years presented as percent of state total calculated from census data.

Gross receipts for direct marketing, all types, for county vs. time, ag. census years (1987 no data published, extrapo- lated).

Number of farms participating in direct marketing, all types, for county vs. time, ag. census years (1987 no data pub- lished, extrapolated).

Estimated total sales from all farmer’s markets in the county. Single year.

Estimated total sales from all community supported sustainable agriculture (CSA) programs in the county. Single year.

Estimated total sales from roadside stands in the county. Single year.

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

County Agricultural Commissioners, compiled by California Farmer magazine.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index data, non-seasonally adjusted annual average, farm products group.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series; County Annual Crop Reports.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series; County Annual Crop Reports.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, UC Davis



Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index data, non-seasonally adjusted annual average, processed foods and feeds group.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index data, non-seasonally adjusted annual average, crude foodstuffs and feedstuffs group.

Economic Productivity Indicators

PAGE 102

continues on next page

Economic Productivity Indicators – continued


Inflation Adjustment, Food Wholesalers and Retailers

Inflation Adjustment, Food Servers

Food Manufacturers Net Value Added to Products

Farm Product Wholesalers Gross Receipts

Food Wholesalers Gross Receipts

Food Retailers Gross Receipts Food Servers Gross Receipts

Years Measure/Graph Resource

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

Total earnings for the county vs. time, economic census years.

Total earnings for the county vs. time, economic census years.

Total earnings for the county vs. time, economic census years.

Total earnings for the county vs. time, economic census years.

Total earnings for the county vs. time, economic census years.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index data, non-seasonally adjusted annual average, finished consumer foods group.

Consumer Price Index data compiled by Robert Sahr, Political Science Department, Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

PAGE 103

Agricultural Production Employment as Farmers

Number Full Owners of Farms in the State

Number Full Owners of Farms in the County

Percent of State Full Farm Owners from County

Farm Labor Wages

Inflation Adjustment

County Total Wages Farm Labor Wages

Farming Labor Wages as Percent County Total Wages

Average Annual Earnings for a Farm Laborer
(adjusted for inflation)

Farm Labor Employment

County Total Employment

State Farm Labor Employment

County Farm Labor Employment


50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87 extr., 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87 extr., 92, 97

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87 extr., 92, 97


Number of full owners of farms in state vs. time for ag. census years.

Number of full owners of farms in county vs. time for ag. census years.

Number of full owners of farms in county as percent of total number full farm own- ers in state vs. time for ag. census years.

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

Total wages earned by the labor force in the county, all occupations, vs. time for ag. census years.

Wages paid to all farm workers working 150 days/year or more in county vs. time, ag. census years.

Wages paid to all farm workers in county as % of total wages in county vs. time for ag. census years.

Total county farm labor wages for the county divided by total county farm labor employment times inflation adjustment vs. time for ag. census years.

Total number of people employed in the county, all occupations, for time vs. ag. census years. (1987 not reported, extrapolated). Not graphed.

Number people employed on farms in state for 150 days/year or more vs. time, ag. census year. (1987 not reported, extrapolated). Not graphed.

Number of farm workers working 150 days/year or more in county vs. time, ag. census years. (1987 not reported, extrapolated).


U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

Calculate using U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series data.

Consumer Price Index data compiled by Robert Sahr, Political Science Department, Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series, specified farm expenditures data.

Calculated from the two preceding data sets.

Calculated using total farm labor wage data and total farm labor employment data from this section, adjusted with inflation adjust- ment factor from this section.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

Food System Wages and Employment Indicators

PAGE 104

continues on next page

Food System Wages and Employment Indicators – continued


County Farm Labor Employment as Percent of State Total

Farm Labor Employment as Percentage of County Total Employment

Food Distribution System

Years Measure/Graph Source

50, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 78, 82, 87 extr., 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87 extr., 92, 97

Number hired farm workers in county as percent state total vs. time, ag census years. (1987 not reported, extrapolated).

Number workers employed in farming as % of total county work force vs. time for ag. census years. (1987 not reported, extrapolated).

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

Wages paid to all food distribution system workers in county vs. time for economic census years.

Wages paid to all food distribution system workers in county as percent of total wages in county vs. time for economic census years.

Total food distribution system wages for the county divided by total food distribution system employment times inflation adjustment vs. time for economic census years.

One graph with a line for each measure in dollars vs. time, economic census years.

Calculated from the two preceding data sets.

Calculated using county total employment and county farm labor employment data sets.

Consumer Price Index data compiled by Robert Sahr, Political Science Department, Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon.

Summed from U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series data in this section.

Calculated using total county wages from demographic section and sum of all food system wages from this section.

Calculated using sum of all food distribution system employment and sum of all wages from this section, adjusted with inflation adjustment factor from this section.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

Food Distribution System Wages

Inflation Adjustment

Total Food Distribution System Wages for the County

Food Distribution Wages as Percent of County Total Wages

Average Annual Earnings for a Food Distribution System Employee (adjusted for infla- tion)

Farm Product Raw Material Wholesaler Wages Paid, County
Food Manufacturers Wages Paid, County

Food Wholesalers Wages Paid, County
Food Retailers Wages Paid, County

Food Servers Wages Paid, County

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

Food Distribution System Employment

Total Food Distribution System Employment for the State

Total Food Distribution System Employment for the County

Total County Food Distribution System Employment as Percent State Total

72, 77, 82, 87, 92

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92

Number workers employed in food system in state, sum of state totals for each food system category from economic census. Not graphed.

Number workers employed in food distribution system in the county vs. time, economic census years.

Total number workers employed in the county for all parts of food distribution system as percent of state total food system employment vs. time for economic census years.

Summed from U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series data in this section.

Summed from U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series data in this section.

Calculate summing food system data in this section.

PAGE 105

continues on next page

Food System Wages and Employment Indicators – continued


Food Distribution System Employment as Percent County Total Employment

Farm Product Raw Material Wholesaler Employment, County
Food Manufacturers Employment, County

Food Wholesalers Employment, County Food Retailers Gross Employment, County Food Servers Gross Employment, County


72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97


Number workers employed in food distribution system as percent of total county work force vs. time for economic census years.

One graph with a line for each measure vs. time, economic census years.


Calculate using total county employment from demographic section and sum of all food system employment from this section.

U.S. Census of Agriculture, Geographic (Area) Series.

PAGE 106


Inflation Adjustment

Total Food Expenditures

Total Food Expenditures, County

Total Food Expenditures in County Derived from National Average

Total County Earnings

Total Food Expenditures in County as % Total County Earnings

Per Capita Food Expenditures

County Population
County Per Capita Income

Per Capita Food Expenditures, National Average

Per Capita Food Expenditures, County

Per Capita Food Expenditures, County Deviation from National Average

County Per Capita Food Expenditures as % Per Capita Income (adjusted for inflation)

National Average Derived County Per Capita Food Expenditures as % Per Capita Income

(adjusted for inflation)

Years Measure/Graph Source

Food Consumption Indicators

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

Factor used as multiplier to convert dollar values for a given year to 1997 equivalent.

Sum of food retailer and food server gross receipts reported in the Economic Census vs. time, Economic Census years.

County population divided by US population, multiplied by total US food expenditures from Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures vs. time, Economic Census years.

Total county wages vs. time, Economic Census years.

Total food expenditures as percent of total county earnings vs. time for Economic Census years.

County population vs. time, Economic Census years.

County per capita income vs. time, Economic Census years.

Total US food expenditures reported in Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures divided by US population vs. time, Economic Census years.

Total food expenditures for county from Economic Census data divided by county population vs. time for Economic Census years.

Difference between per capita food expenditures, county and per capita food expenditures, national average, vs. time for Economic Census years.

Per capita food expenditures, county, as percent county per capita income vs. time, Economic Census years.

Inflation adjusted per capita food expenditures, national average, divided by inflation adjusted county per capita income times 100 vs. time, Economic Census years.

Consumer Price Index data compiled by Robert Sahr, Political Science Department, Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM; US Census Bureau Historical National Population Estimates; Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures, USDA.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Calculated from Economic Census and Bureau of Economic Analysis data in this section.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures, USDA; US Census Bureau Historical National Population Estimates.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.; U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

Calculated from preceding two variables.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.; U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.; U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

continues on next page

PAGE 107

Food Consumption Indicators – continued

Descriptor Years Dollars Spent on Food, Home vs. Away


Food retailers’ gross receipts vs. time, Economic Census years.

Food servers’ gross receipts vs. time, Economic Census years.

Total US food expenditures for home reported in Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures divided by US popula- tion, multiplied by county population

vs. time for Economic Census years.

Total US food expenditures away from home reported in Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures divided by US population, multiplied by county popula- tion vs. time for Economic Census years.

Ratio, food retailers’ gross receipts divided by food servers’ gross receipts for county vs. time for Economic Census years.

Ratio, total US food expenditures for home divided by expenditures away data reported in Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures vs. time for Economic Census years.


U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures, USDA; US Census Bureau Historical National Population Estimates; Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures, USDA; US Census Bureau Historical National Population Estimates; Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Analysis CD ROM.

U.S. Economic Census, Geographic Area Series.

Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures, USDA.

Food Retailers’ Gross Receipts (Home)

Food Servers’ Gross Receipts (Away)

Money Spent on Food at Home in County, Derived from National Average

Money Spent on Food Away from Home in County, Derived from National Average

Ratio, Food Consumed Home vs. Away, County

National Averages, Ratio Food Consumption, Home vs. Away

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

72, 77, 82, 87, 92, 97

PAGE 108

Community Food Security and Access Indicators

Indicator Years Government Food Program Participation


Number of People in the county vs. time. Not graphed.

Number of individuals participating in the food stamp program in the county vs. time.

Number of individuals participating in the food stamp program in the county as a
percent of total county population vs. time.

Number of People in the county vs. time. Not graphed.

Number of people in WIC programs in the county vs. time.

Number of people in WIC programs as a percent of county population vs. time.

Number of FMNP’s in the county.

Number of people reached by FMNP’s vs. time.

Number of students receiving free and reduced price lunches.

Number of community kitchens in the county.

Number of food banks in the county.
Number of people served by county food banks.

Pounds of food served at county food banks.

Number of gleaning programs active in the county.

Pounds of food gleaned from sources in the county.

Number of people participating in gleaning programs and activities.

Number of community gardens in the county.

Number of people using community gardening space in the county.


County Population

Number of People Receiving Food Stamps

Percent of County Population Receiving Food Stamps

County Population

Number of People in WIC Programs

Percent of County Population in WIC Programs

Number of FMNP’s

Number of People Reached by FMNP’s

Number of Children Enrolled in School Meal Programs

Community Kitchens

Number of Community Kitchens

Food Banks

Number of Food Banks

Number of People Served by Food Banks

Pounds of Food Served at Food Banks

Gleaning Program

Number of Gleaning Programs

Pounds of Food Gleaned

Number of Gleaning Program Participants

Community Gardens

Number of Community Gardens

Number of Community Gardeners

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

69, 74, 78, 82, 87, 92, 97

90, 92, 94, 96, 98

90, 92, 94, 96, 98

90, 92, 94, 96, 98

Single year? 1997

Single year?

Single year?

Single year? Single year?

Single year?

Single year?

Single year? Single year?

Single year? Single year?

California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit.

California Department of social Welfare, Public Assistance in California (Periodical).

Calculated from preceding two measures.

California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit.

California State WIC Office. California State WIC Office.

California State WIC Office. California State WIC Office.

California Department of Education, Compiled by RAND Corporation.

Cooperative Extension.

Local food banks? Local food banks?

Local food banks?

Local gleaning organizations?

Local gleaning organizations? Local gleaning organizations?

Cooperative Extension or local gardening organizations?

Cooperative Extension or local gardening organizations?

Education and Advocacy Indicators

Indicator Years K-12 Schools with Agriculture/Food Education


Number of schools in the county with educational garden programs.

Number of schools in the county with courses in agriculture as a vocation.

Number of schools in the county with “Agriculture in the Classroom” programs.


County Office of Education?

County Office of Education?

Farm Bureau? County Office of Education?

Local colleges, universities, community colleges?

Personal communication with local nonprofits?

Personal communication with local nonprofits?

Personal communication with local nonprofits?

Personal communication with local nonprofits?

County Agricultural Commissioner or Cooperative Extension?

Number of Schools in the County with Educational Gardens

Number of Schools in the County with Agricultural Vocational Education

Number of Schools in County with “Agriculture in the Classroom”

Single year? Single year? Single year?

Higher Education Institutions with Sustainable Agriculture Courses

Number of Universities, Colleges, and Community Colleges in the County with Sustainable Agriculture Courses

Single year?

Higher Education Institutions with Sustainable Agriculture Courses Number of universities, colleges, and community colleges in the county with courses in sustainable, organic, or other alternative agriculture.

Number of sustainable agriculture organizations active in the county.

Number of consumer advocacy organiza- tions active in the county.

Number of county-resident members in sustainable agriculture organizations.

Number of county-resident members in consumer advocacy organizations.

Number of agricultural tourism programs in the county.

Number of community food security projects in the county.

Number of hunger advocacy organizations active in the county.

Sustainable Agriculture and Consumer Advocacy

Number of Sustainable Agriculture Organizations Active in the County

Number of Consumer Advocacy Organizations Active in the County

Number of County-Resident Members in Sustainable Agriculture Organizations

Number of County-Resident Members in Consumer Advocacy Organizations

Agricultural Tourism

Number of Agricultural Tourism Programs in the County

Community Food Security

Number of Community Food Security Projects in the County

Number of Hunger Advocacy Organizations Active in the County

Single year? Single year? Single year? Single year?

Single year?

Single year? Single year?

PAGE 110

Appendix 4. Comparing Primary and Secondary Data

Issue or question

Key defining characteristic

What are the issues in using either pri- mary or secondary sources?

Primary data

You gather your own data from scratch and conduct your own analysis.

You tailor the indicators, instruments, and data- gathering and analyses processes to meet your needs and objectives. For example, you could define exactly:

• Categories and variables
• Geographic scope
• Specific population groups
• The type of response needed/desired • Time period of relevance

You may derive benefits from research processes that go beyond the research findings themselves. For example, collecting data from scratch in the community can:

• Generate grassroots interest in and ownership of the assessment, and its use to design programs and actions

• Build community appreciation of and skills in research and follow-up activities

• Facilitate greater control in the community over data collected from people and activities there

• When your choice of indicators and other research parameters call for it.

• When you wish to derive other benefits (see above) of collecting data from scratch.

• When you have no choice but to collect your own data, because secondary sources are unavailable for your questions, geographic scope, budget, or time period of interest.

• It takes time to design indicators and instruments from scratch and to gather and analyze data

• It may require special resources, training, and expertise to design and administer the research

• It can be cheap or expensive depending on your needs, scale of research, and expertise. It’s gen- erally more expensive than freely available sec- ondary data (such as Census data, for example).

• In-kind resources for research activities might help keep down costs. In general, scientifically conducted, large sample surveys can be expen- sive to implement and analyze.

• Primary data sources are better for context- and time-sensitive information. Developing primary data for comparisons across time and space may need expertise and resources to develop.

• Depending on research techniques used, community members may need to be trained to ensure high data quality.

Secondary data

You use existing data or analysis.

You choose indicators tailored by others and use the data based on these original definitions. The indicators may not exactly match your needs in terms of geographic scope, population groups, time period, etc., but nonetheless may still be useful.

Secondary data offer the following benefits:
• Promote quality control of data
• Allow comparisons across time and space
• Typically require less time and fewer resources

to obtain

• When you need to include some general communi- ty statistics in your assessment to establish the broader context for more detailed food issues.

• When you need to compare your community’s data with other communities, or to regional or national data.

• When there is a good match between existing data and your indicators of interest.

• When you have little choice but to go with existing data, due to limited time and resources.

• You may need to know exactly how the indicator was defined in the secondary source, how data were collected, analyzed, and displayed, and any other characteristics that be relevant to your inter- pretation of the data.

• Many data collected by the government are available to the public free of cost.

• In some cases, you may get publicly collected data through the Freedom of Information Act (1996), but may have to pay for associated retrieval costs.

• Commercially available databases may be expensive.

• Secondary data are scientifically and rigorously developed and therefore can be used to make gen- eral conclusions about groups and areas, and for comparison across time and place.

When you would need to consider it?

So, what’s the catch?


How it might affect the quality of your research?

PAGE 111


Issue or question

How might it affect your group’s capac- ity to persuade dif- ferent audiences?

Primary data

• Involving community partners and members in the research design, implementation, and analy- sis increases local relevance and helps generate more responsive instruments and stronger partici- pation rates, more sensitive programs and actions, and greater community capacity in research and program development

• Primary research that answers specific questions for a particular time and place of interest may be especially useful to community actors, agencies and members.

• Lawmakers tend to be impressed when an assessment addresses a particular place and time period that are relevant for policy advocacy or implementation.

• Community memory tends to resonate with the stories, experiences, and events that are better collected by primary methods, thereby increasing the credibility of the research.

• Subjective data such as those best collected by primary methods may also be perceived in some arenas as weak and biased. Research design and implementation need to be carefully conducted and well-documented so as to defend against allegations of poor science or bias.

• Individual persons (interviews or surveys of residents, farmers, business, city staff, etc)

• Organizational/agency documents (policy manu- als, annual reports, etc)

• Newspaper and other archival records
• Photographs, videotapes, journals, recipe books,

restaurant menus

• Can take as many forms as your group envisions: statistics, maps, quotes, pictures and photo novellas, compilations of assets.

• Some forms that are easily available through sec- ondary data—i.e., aerial photos, or longitudinal analyses–may be very expensive to generate from scratch.

Secondary data

• Policy-makers and agency staff tend to understand and use government data sources (such as the Census of Population) widely. Summary data in the form of statistics, listings, maps, graphs, are persuasive in policy arenas.

• Secondary sources (especially government) tend to be rigorously developed and implemented and are therefore perceived by many interests to be valid, unbiased, and reliable.

• Comparative views—usually drawn with the help of statistics—are useful for all audiences, including those located within the community. These may need greater interpretation for the general public.

• Census of population and households (decennial)
• Census TIGER (Topographically Integrated Geographic

Encoding and Referencing system) maps
• Census of Agriculture
• Census of Retail
• Census of Wholesale
• Census of Manufacturing
• Bureau of Labor Statistics
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention • Dunn and Bradstreet business databases

• Selectphone CD-ROM yellow pages (commercial)

• Can take any form depending on who collected the data and for what purposes: statistics, phone and address directories, maps, aerial photographs, for example.

• It is also possible that a recently completed PhD dissertation could be the source of secondary data for your assessment.

Examples of data sources

Forms findings can take

PAGE 112





Informal interview

• Relies mainly on spontaneous generation of questions during an interaction.

• Interviewer can be flexible and responsive to individual differences, situational changes, and new information.

• May generate less systematic data that are difficult and time consuming to classify and analyze.

Survey interview

• Relies on a survey instrument with predeter- mined questions and may have a structured set of options for response.

• A good way to systematically collect informa- tion for different types of research objectives.

• A good survey requires expertise and resources to conduct.

Semi-structured interview

• Relies on an interview guide containing a pre- determined set of questions.

• Makes interviewing of a number of individuals more systematic and comprehensive.

• Does not permit the interviewer to pursue issues of interest that were not included in the interview guide.

Standardized open-ended interview

• Consists of a set of open-ended questions carefully worded and arranged in advance.

• Allows the evaluator to collect detailed data systematically and to compare across participants.

• Does not permit the interviewer to pursue issues that were not included in the interview instrument.

Focus group interviews

• Interviews with small groups of people with similar backgrounds and experiences.

• This method elicits ideas, insights, and experiences in a small group.

• Skillful facilitation is required to ensure participation from all members.

Appendix 5. Data-collection Techniques: Strengths and Weaknesses

• Interviewer maintains maximum flexibility in pursuing questions and to respond to information.

• Can be administered in person, or by mail, phone, or computer.

• Widely and commonly used by professionals in behavioral and social sciences, health sci- ences, and other fields.

• Compensating participants for answering questions can be expensive.

• Sample needs to be carefully selected to avoid bias and to ensure that the findings can be said to reflect the larger population and not just the participants who responded.

• Does not permit the interviewer to pursue issues of interest that were not included in the interview guide.

• Guide serves as a checklist, ensuring that the same information is obtained from all partici- pants.

• Logical gaps in the data collected can be anticipated and closed, while the interviews remain fairly conversational and situational.

• Interviewer flexibility in wording and sequenc- ing questions may result in widely differing responses, making it hard to compare these responses.

• Interviewer is free to pursue questions in greater depth.

• Interviewer asks same questions of each respondent.

• Appropriate when there are several interview- ers and evaluator wants to minimize variation in questions, or when it is desirable to have the same information from each interviewee at several points in time.

• Limits the use of alternative lines of question- ing with different people depending on their particular experiences.

• Participants are asked to reflect on the ques- tions asked by the interviewers, provide their own comments, listen to others, and respond.

• Especially good for exploratory phase to iden- tify a broad range of issues and experiences.

• Not good for getting information on prevalence or statistical relationships.

• Interviews are conducted several times with different groups so the evaluator can identify trends in perceptions and opinions.

• Participant interaction provides a quality control mechanism.

• Not good for getting information when people may feel ashamed talking about something in front of others, or have something to hide.

• The interviewer acts as facilitator, guiding the discussion and encouraging participation.

• May not be good to study some kinds of issues, processes, or flows or where contextual detail is needed.





Key informant interview

• A key informant (KI) is an individual who has access to information as a result of their knowledge, experience, or status in a commu- nity.

• Information from KIs can assist in under- standing the context of a program or project. • Many audiences will want to know what local

• Since selection of key informants is not random, bias is possible.

Community meetings/ hearings/ testimonies

• Public meetings in which members of the community are consulted.

• Interviewing the community can provide valu- able information on problems or how well a project is working.

• Participation may be limited to a few high status or vocal members of the community.

Direct observation

• Involves systematic recording of activities, behaviors, and things as an unobtrusive observer.

• Can be a rapid and economical way of obtain- ing basic information.

• May raise ethical issues if individuals’ privacy or confidentiality are violated.

Participant observation

• The researcher is or becomes a member of the community or group that is being studied.

• The researcher is able to experience and thereby better understand the context of the community and the experiences of the group studied.

• The presence of the researcher may alter the behavior that is being observed.

Document Analysis

• Involves gathering and analyzing relevant material such as laws, regulations, contracts, correspondence, meeting minutes, and client records.

• Good source of information on program activities.

• Bias may be introduced if only selected documents are kept.

Appendix 5. Data-collection Techniques: Strengths and Weaknesses – continued

• May need careful planning of questions beforehand.

• Some audiences may want an outsider per- spective on particular situations (such as a conflict between two groups in a community).

• Structured rather than informal interview.

• Typically involve a set of factually-based, fairly closed-ended questions.

• Works especially well when there is an event or a crisis that brings the community together.

• Community leaders may use the forum to seek consensus on their own views.

• Once the interviewers pose the question, the group interacts to get consensus around an answer.

• Can include driving through a neighborhood at different times of the week, or sitting in on meetings.

• If participants are not aware that they are being observed, they are less likely to change their behavior.

• Asking for permission before observing may cause participants to act differently.

• He or she participates in the activities of the community and observes behaviors.

• Ethical issues may arise if the observer misrepresents himself/herself in order to be accepted by the community being studied.

• The purpose of this technique is not only to see what is happening but to feel what it is like to be part of the group.

• For example, author and researcher Barbara Ehrenreich, took up a job as a low-wage wait- ress and tried to make a living out of her earn- ings. Her report is the book, “Nickeled and Dimed: On Not Getting by in America” (2000)

well-networked individuals think of community issues.

• It may be difficult to form a balanced view of the situation.

• Can generate ideas for questions that can be pursued by other methods.

• Provides valuable information that may not be accessible by other means (e.g. because they record events that occurred earlier).

• Documents were generated at the time of the events and may therefore be more accurate than data from an interview.

Photo novella

• Presents a short dialogue with pictures like a comic strip.

• Clarifies information and/or messages in a visual manner.

• Photo novellas may be dismissed or discounted by policy-makers as not serious research.





Photo documentation

• Uses photographs as a means of documenting the current state of a place, or comparing “before” and “after.”

• Dramatic and persuasive, especially when it complements other forms of data collection.

• Pictures can be subject to manipulation.

Community asset/problem mapping

• Provides a picture of the community, its people, organizations, resources, problems, and opportunities.

• Addresses can be obtained from public and private sources (e.g. yellow pages).

• Basic computing resources and skills may be unavailable.

Appendix 5. Data-collection Techniques: Strengths and Weaknesses – continued

• Important to accurately note time and place where pictures were taken.

• Helps compile useful background information for potential projects and identify potential partners that may be located close to each other, e.g., community gardens and possible retail facilities within one mile that could sell the produce.

• Can be mapped manually or with the help of software.

• Assets or features most important to the community may not be available in database form (e.g. stores that offer food on credit). Collecting this information systematically can be time-consuming.

• Appealing to groups with limited reading skills and best when constructed by members of the audience.

• Some kinds of questions are better for this method than others, e.g. how residents cope with lack of food access.

• Can document relationships that were ignored or taken for granted.

• Can be easily done through university partners using computing hardware and software (Geographic Information Systems).

• Maps may need to updated frequently for accuracy.

• US Census (www.census.gov) provides maps on the web.

Appendix 6. Resource List Community Food Assessment

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Cohen, B., L. Kantor, and M. Andrews. 2000. Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/AboutERS/Sales/ (Date accessed: 25 Sept 2002).

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. 2000. Community Food Security in Tompkins County. New York: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. http://www.cals.cornell.edu/agfoodcommunity/afs_temp3.cfm?topicID=260#tompkinscounty. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Johnson, K., S. Percy, and E. Wagner. 1996. Comparative Study of Food Pricing and Availability in Milwaukee. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

Pelletier, D. L., V. Kraak, C. McCullum, U. Uusitalo and R. Rich. 2000. Values, Public Policy and Community Food Security. Agriculture and Human Values, 17(1): 75-93. http://www.cep.unt.edu/agro.html (Date accessed: 25 Sept 2002).

Pinderhughes, R., and J. Miner. 2001. Good Farming, Healthy Communities: Strengthening Sustainable Agriculture Sectors and Local Food Systems. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco State University, Urban and Environmental Studies Program.

Pothukuchi, K. 2002 (forthcoming). The Detroit Area Food System: A Handbook for Local Planning. Detroit: Wayne State University.

Seavey, D. and A.F Sullivan. 2001. Household Food Security Study Summaries. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University, Center on Hunger and Poverty. http://www.centeronhunger.org/pubs/pubs.html. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Sullivan, A.F. and E. Choi. 2002. Hunger and Food Insecurity in the Fifty States, 1998-2000. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University, Center on Hunger and Poverty. http://www.centeronhunger.org/pubs/pubs.html. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Sustain – The Alliance for Better Food and Farming. 2000. Reaching the Parts. London: Sustain – The Alliance for Better Food and Farming. http://www.sustainweb.org/pub_poverty.asp. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Sustainable Food Center. 2001. Access Denied: An Analysis of Problems Facing East Austin Residents in Their Attempts to Obtain Affordable, Nutritious Food. Austin, TX: Sustainable Food Center. http://www.main.org/sfc/access_denied/. (Date accessed: 3 Sept 2002).

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University of Wisconsin—Madison, Department of Urban and Regional Planning 1997. Fertile Ground: Planning for the Madison/Dane County Food System. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison Food System Project. http://www.wisc.edu/mfsp/pubsf/pub.html. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Varela, O. J. 1996. Socio-spatial Relationships and Food Programs in Milwaukee’s Food System. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

Varela, O. J., D. P. Haider-Markel, and S. L. Percy. 1998. Perceptions and Experiences of Consumer Access to Food in Milwaukee’s Inner-City Neighborhoods. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

Varela, O. J., K. Johnson, and S. Percy. 1998. Food Insecurity in Milwaukee: A Qualitative Study of Food Pantry and Meal Program Users. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

Community Food Systems / Community Food Security

Azuma, A. and A. Fisher. 2001. Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids: Evaluating the Barriers and Opportunities for Farm-to-School Programs. Venice, CA: Community Food Security Coalition. http://www.foodsecurity.org. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Biehler, D., A. Fisher, K. Siedenburg, M. Winne, J. Zachary. 1999. Getting Food on the Table: An Action Guide to Local Food Policy. Venice, CA: Community Food Security Coalition. http://www.foodsecurity.org. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Clancy, K., and J. L. Wilkins. 1994. Creating communities that are food secure, in Leidenfrost, N.B. and J.L. Wilkins, (Eds.), Food Security in the United States: A Guidebook for Public Issues Education. Washington, D.C.: Cooperative Education System.

Fisher, A., B. Gottlieb, T. Forster, and M. Winne. 2001. The Healthy Farms, Food and Communities Act: Policy Initiatives for the 2002 Farm Bill And the First Decade of the 21st Century. Venice, CA: Community Food Security Coalition. http://www.foodsecurity.org. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Food and Nutrition Service. 1999. The National Nutrition Safety Net: Tools for Community Food Security. Alexandria, VA: United States Department of Agriculture.

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Food policy resources. http://www.frac.org. (Date accessed: 12 Sept 2002).

Food Security Institute. Waltham, MA: Brandeis Center on Hunger and Poverty. http://www.center onhunger.org/fsiintro.html. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Gottlieb, R., A. Fisher, M. Dohan, L. O’Connor, and V. Parks. 1996. Homeward Bound: Food- Related Transportation Strategies for Low-Income and Transit Dependent Communities. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Pollution Prevention Education and Research Center and the Community Food Security Coalition.

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Hartford Food System. 1998. Making Room at the Table: A Guide to Community Food Security in Connecticut. Hartford, CT: Hartford Food System. http://www.hartfordfood.org/. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Johnson, K., S. Percy and E. Wagner. 1996. Comparative Study of Food Pricing and Availability in Milwaukee. Milwaukee, WI: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

Kloppenburg, J. Jr., J. Hendrickson and G. Stevenson. 1996. Coming into the foodshed, in W. Vitek and W. Jackson (Eds.), Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Martin, K. 2001. Food Security and Community: Putting the Pieces Together. Hartford, CT: Hartford Food System. http://www.hartfordfood.org. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Minnesota Food Association. 1997. Strategies, Policy Approaches, and Resources for Local Food System Planning and Organizing. Minneapolis, MN. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002). http://www.mnfoodassociation.org/.

Prehm, M., S. Yee and P. Hox. 2002. Planning Community Food Security Projects: From the Ground UP! Sacramento, CA: California Nutrition Network for Healthy, Active Families.

Rohrer, J. E. 1996. Planning for Community-Oriented Health Systems. Washington, D.C.: American Public Health Association Publications.

Toronto Food Policy Council. 1996. Toronto food policy council discussion paper series. Toronto, Ontario. http://www.city.toronto.on.ca/health/tfpc_discussion_paper.htm. (Date accessed: 12 Sept 2002).

Winne, M., H. Joseph, and A. Fisher. 1997. Community Food Security: A Guide to Concept, Design and Implementation. Venice, CA: Community Food Security Coalition. http://www.food- security.org. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Community Needs Assessment

Gubbels, P. and C. Koss. 2001. From the Roots Up: Strengthening Organizational Capacity through Guided Self-Assessment. Oklahoma City, OK: World Neighbors. http://www.wn.org. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Kaufman, R. 1993. Needs Assessment: A User’s Guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, Inc.

Samuels, Bryan, N. Ahsan, and J. Garcia. 1995. Know Your Community: A Step by Step Guide to Community Needs and Resource Assessment. Chicago, IL: Family Resource Coalition.

Soriano, F. I. 1995. Conducting Needs Assessments: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Witkin, B.R., and J.W. Altschuld. 1995. Planning and Conducting Needs Assessments: A Practical Guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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Research Methods

Brewer, J. and A. Hunter. 1989. Multimethod Research: A Synthesis of Styles. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Cozby, P. 1993. Methods in Behavioral Research. 4th Edition. CA: Mayfield Publishing. Foddy, W. 1993. Constructing Questions for Interviews and Questionnaires: Theory and

Practice in Social Research. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Greenbaum, T.L. 1998. The Practical Handbook and Guide to Focus Group Research.

Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Inter-American Development Bank. Resource Book on Participation. Washington, DC. http://www.iadb.org/exr/english/policies/participate/sec7.htm. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Owen, H. 1992. Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing. Owen, H. 1995. Tales from Open Space. Potomac, MD: Abbott Publishing.

Weisbord, M. R. and S. Janoff. 1995. Future Search: An Action Guide to Finding Common Ground in Organizations & Communities. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Spatial Mapping / Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Aberley, D., (Ed.), 1993. Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

ESRI (developer of ArcView and related GIS software). http://www.esri.com (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Kretzmann, J. and J. McKnight. 1993. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding & Mobilizing a City’s Assets. Chicago, IL: Northwestern University.

Kretzmann, J., J. McKnight, and D. Puntenney. 1996. A Guide to Mapping Consumer Expenditures and Mobilizing Consumer Expenditure Capacities. Evanston, IL: Asset-Based Community Development Institute.

Kretzmann, J., J. McKnight, and D. Puntenney. 1996. A Guide to Mapping and Mobilizing the Economic Capacities of Local Residents. Evanston, IL: Asset-Based Community Development Institute.

Kretzmann J., J. McKnight, and D. Puntenney. 1996. A Guide to Mapping Local Business Assets and Mobilizing Local Business Capacities. Evanston, IL: Asset-Based Community Development Institute.
Public Health Institute, California Project Lean. LeanGIS – http://eisdot.gislab.teale.ca.gov/ (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

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Participatory Action Research

Goshen College, Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology. http://www.goshen.edu/soan/soan96p.htm. (Date accessed: 27 Sept 2002). An extensive list of links to sites with participatory action focus.

Institute of Development Studies. Participation Research. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies. http://www.ids.ac.uk/ids/particip/research.html. (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Kemmis, S. and McTaggart, R. (Eds., 3rd Edition), 1988. The Action Research Planner. Victoria, British Columbia (Canada): Deakin University Press.

Park, P. 1989. What is Participatory Research? A Theoretical and Methodological Perspective. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts.

Pretty, J. and R. Hines. 1999. Participatory Appraisal for Community Assessment: Principles and Methods. University of Essex, UK: Centre for Environment and Society. http://www2.essex.ac.uk/ces/CommParticipation/ComPartPrinciplesnmethods.htm (Date accessed: 23 Sept 2002).

Whyte, W. F. 1991. Participatory Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Qualitative Research

Denzin, N. and Y. Lincoln (Eds.). 1994. Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Dillman, D. 1978. Mail and Telephone Surveys, the Total Design Method. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Greenbaum, T.L. 1998. The Practical Handbook and Guide to Focus Group Research. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Marshall, C. and Rossmas, G. 1995. 2nd edition. Designing Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Miles, M. and Huberman, M. 1989. 2nd edition. Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. 1990. Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

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Communicating and Disseminating Information

Brawley, E. A. 1983. Mass Media and Human Services: Getting the Message Across. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Ferris-Morris, M., V. Kraak, and D.L. Pelletier. 1992. Using Communication to Improve Nutrition-Relevant Decision-Making in the Community. Ithaca, NY: Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University.

Gatson N. and P. Daniels. 1988. Guidelines: Writing for Adults with Limited Reading Skills. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.

Gordon, R. 1978. We interrupt this program… A Citizen’s Guide to Using the Media for Social Change. Amherst, MA: Citizen Development Training Project.

Lauffer, A. 1984. Strategic Marketing for Not-for-Profit Organizations. New York, NY: Free Press.

Wollack, L., K. Woodruff, L. Dorfman, and I. Diaz. 1999. News for a Change: An Advocates Guide to Working with the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Community Organizing and Participation

Beresford, P. and S. Croft. 1993. Citizen Involvement: A Practical Guide for Change. London: Macmillan.

Beresford, P. and T. Harding (Eds.), 1993. A Challenge to Change: Practical Experiences of Building User-led Services. London: National Institute for Social Work.

Croft, S. and P. Beresford. 1993. Getting Involved: A Practical Manual. York, UK: Joseph Rowntree.

Fisher, R. 1984. Let the People Decide: Organizing in America. Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers.

Lewis. B. A. 1991. The Kid’s Guide to Social Action: How to Solve the Social Problems You Choose – and Turn Creative Thinking into Positive Action. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Minkler, M. 1997. Community Organizing and Community Building for Health. London, UK: Routledge.

Staples, L. 1984. Roots to Power: A Manual for Grassroots Organizing. New York, NY: Praeger Paperwork.

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Facilitation and Collaboration

Cantrell, P. 1991. The Food and Agriculture Workbook. Snowmass, CO: Rocky Mountain Institute.

Clark, R. 1992. Building Coalitions. The Ohio Center For Action on Coalition Development. Columbus, OH: Ohio Cooperative Extension Service, The Ohio State University.

Doyle, M. and D. Strauss. 1986. How to Make Meetings Work. New York, NY: Jove. Hargrove, R. 1998. Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration. New York, NY: MacGraw-Hill

Companies, Inc.
Payne, M. 1982. Working in Teams. London, UK: Macmillan.

Selected Food-Related Organizations

American Community Gardening Association 100 N. 20th Street, 5th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1495
(215) 988-8785 http://www.communitygarden.org

California Food Policy Advocates
116 New Montgomery St., Suite 530 San Francisco, California 94105 http://www.cfpa.net

Community Food Security Coalition PO Box 209
Venice, CA 90294
(310) 822-5410 http://www.foodsecurity.org

Food Research and Action Center
1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 540 Washington, DC 20009
(202) 986-2200


Hartford Food System
509 Wethersfield Avenue Hartford, CT 06114
(860) 296-9325 http://www.hartfordfood.org

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Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First 398 60th Street
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 654-4400


National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture P.O. Box 396
Pine Bush, New York 12566

(845) 744-8448 http://www.sustainableagriculture.net

National Family Farm Coalition
110 Maryland Ave., N.E., Suite 307 Washington, DC 20002
(202) 543-5675 http://www.nffc.net

Rural Coalition
1411 K Street, NW, Suite 901 Washington, DC 20005
(202) 628-7160 http://www.ruralco.org/

United States Department of Agriculture Food, and Consumer Nutrition Services http://www.fns.usda.gov

United States Department of Agriculture
Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program (202) 205-0241 http://www.reeusda.gov/crgam/cfp/community.htm

World Hunger Year
505 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
(212) 629-8850 http://www.worldhungeryear.org

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Author: bryan nettles