Effective food systems– which include the people, processes and places involved with moving food from local farm to plates – provide equity, sustainability, profitability and resiliency to communities. UF/IFAS researchers conducted a study to define key elements of community food system models and how to overcome the obstacles they face.
Researchers used their findings to develop a tool that can help communities strengthen their local food system, recently published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.
Community food systems are sometimes fragile. One of the threats is whether people are aware of policies and programs that are intended to help keep them operating. Without consensus on the needs and dynamics of what makes community food systems tick, policies and programs cannot be developed to help them thrive.
Addressing this issue cannot be a “one-size-fits-all approach.” Community food systems vary, including differences in climate, social and cultural norms, the level of resources available, the level of urbanization and more.
The UF/IFAS research recruited experts across the United States and Canada to reach consensus on three important elements of community food systems resilience – the most important values that should guide community food systems policies and programs to develop resilience, the benefits of adopting these policies and programs and what resilience means for these food systems.
“The pandemic brought increased awareness to the importance of resilient community food systems,” said Catherine Campbell, UF/IFAS assistant professor specializing in community food systems. “That, combined with the increasing awareness of systemic injustices in our community food systems and their impacts on health disparities, has made it clear that it is necessary to adopt policies to support food systems resilience.”
These policies must consider each aspect of resilience so that the support of one goal does not reinforce inequality or a lack of resilience in another part of the food system.
“Finding that balance is important. Focusing on just one piece could undermine the whole system, it isn’t that simple, and this audit tool can help communities address the big picture,” said Campbell.
The study provides a comprehensive blueprint to address resilience across seven core themes: agricultural and ecological sustainability, community health, community self-reliance, distributive and democratic leadership, focus on the farmer and food maker, food justice and place-based economics.
Researchers hope the policies and procedures can be adopted by local governments, supported by Extension agents, or that food policy councils or community-based organizations will advocate for them.
“Food system resilience should not be available only to those communities that have the resources or support available to them to provide specific guidance and recommendations,” she said. “This audit tool is intended to be applicable to any community—rural or urban, well- or under-resourced.”
The audit tool is in the pilot testing phase now and an UF/IFAS Extension program to help communities use it will be available later this year. For more information or for additional resources to support community food systems, visit the UF/IFAS urban agriculture and community food systems website.