New Reports Highlight Innovations in Community-Based Food Systems

by James Rose

Published: 9/08/17, Last updated: 5/24/19

Across the country, communities are developing innovative systems to provide sustainable food at the regional level. To highlight just a few of the many innovative community-based food system initiatives, the Wallace Center at Winrock International, Common Market and Changing Tastes came together to produce a report called ‘From the Ground Up: Inspiring Community-based Food Systems Interventions.’ The report highlights food projects around the US that are changing the way food is grown, processed and distributed. And the report shows the range of project sizes from Yarducopia’s neighborhood gardening program to the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative.

Uncovering the Community Food Movement

The projects that ‘From the Ground Up’ looked at varied in focus, approach and geographic spread, yet shared a common set of values including equity, sustainable agriculture, democratic participation, social justice, community ownership and building and access to healthy food. The authors of the report also set out to identify emerging trends in innovation to help bring about a shift towards a more sustainable food system.

In all, the report describes 62 projects that illustrate positive food system change at the community level. The authors describe that one of their more striking findings is that an “innovative project” often means using an existing idea or heritage to return to traditional cultural practices, like New Mexico’s American Friends Service Committee‘s work in preserving cultural heritage and honoring indigenous practices. In compiling this report the team “hopes this report will inspire and inform practitioners, community groups, support organizations, foundations, advocates, policymakers and community members to work together to build a healthy, equitable and sustainable food system.”

Investing in the Regional Food System

In addition to contributing to ‘From the Ground Up,’ Common Market was featured in the Federal Reserve’s new publication ‘Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities.‘ The nonprofit – a regional food distributor which works to connect urban and rural communities to improve food security, farm viability, and community and ecological health — was one the first recipients of a loan from the Food System Transformation Fund in order to “encourage the development of healthy food systems and more resilient regional economies.” The loan helped Common Market to pay farmers a fair price for their products and sell to institutions with strained budgets, and helped it to reach profitability within three years and expand its reach.

In addition to featuring the loan, ‘Harvesting Opportunity’ describes how Common Market is a good example of food hub that brings fresh food to low-access areas. Common Market’s Mid-Atlantic and Georgia operations bring hundreds of food products from less than two hundred miles away to its distribution areas. The group is successful at connecting farmers with food networks in urban spaces and is in the process of expanding into the New York City area.

In all, these two reports demonstrate that both highlighting innovation and being a part of innovation is not mutually exclusive.

‘From the Ground Up’ illustrates how community based systems can operate, while ‘Harvesting Opportunity’ shows how innovative groups like Common Market are a key part of the sustainable food system. As the two reports make clear, there are many models to emulate at various scales to help create a sustainable, regional food system.

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