Community Food Systems

The Community Food Systems Program is a multi-phase, multi-year program that partners with communities to design and develop their local and regional food systems.


About the Program

Devoted to long-term community empowerment and lasting impacts, the program requires deep community engagement. The program is designed to develop trust and coalitions, research and assess existing conditions and goals of the health and food system context, design and implement priority projects related to the coalition's mission and vision. 

This multi-year process is completed in two phases:

Phase 1: Research and Coalition Development

  • Develops trust within communities and generates a place-base vision, mission, and core values
  • Assesses existing conditions and goals of the food system
  • Determines priority projects through a facilitated evaluation meeting

Phase 2: Design and Implementation

  • Designs priority projects as a project team
  • Creates momentum and capacity for program development and implementation of projects

Outputs and Outcomes:

  • Coalition development: developing a name, mission, vision and core values along with logo design
  • Public input session materials
  • Community food system assessment and snapshot
  • Up to five priority projects determined for implementation in Phase 2

Outputs and Outcomes

  • Design development and assistance in implementation of priority projects
  • Project management and design
  • Grant writing
  • Consultation with ISU faculty and staff experts

Menu of Services

We offer a range of services to support food systems development in communities.

Coalition Development

It is critical for food systems and community development that community members agree upon a vision, mission, and core values; name recognition; and accountability. The development of a coalition assists in this process, as well as confirming what the coalition wants to make happen in the community. This includes understanding the reason behind why the group wants to exist: for example due to a local challenge, issue, or idea.

Outcomes include the development of a coalition, name for the group, collective mission, vision and core values, logo, and beginning brainstorming on next steps and what the coalition should do together.

Community Food Systems Assessments

In order to know what a coalition or community would like to see happen, it is critical to understand what already exists. The Community Food Systems Assessment evaluates the existing conditions of the community based food system sectors (production, transformation, distribution, consumption, and resource management) and how those aspects relate to community food system program values (education, policy, public health, built and natural environment, and the economy). Outputs include: Community Food Systems Assessment and Community Food Systems Snapshot reports. Includes one public input session (see description below).

Assessment resources include:

Community Food Systems Tactic Checklist (pdf)

Community Food Systems Tactic Checklist (doc)

Data Resources for Food Systems Assessments (pdf)

Data Resources for Food Systems Assessments (doc)

Public Input Sessions

Creative ways to hear from the community about what residents would like to see in their community. The public input session hosted by the Community Food Systems program includes posters of tactics researched (24), a large 6′ x 6′ or 9′ x 9′ map, color coded stickers and postcards, as well as several survey questions. In addition, a Community Food Systems team member will participate in one input sessions to educate on the process.

Technical Assistance

Communities may have already determined particular projects that fit with their coalition’s values and needs. In partnership with the Iowa State University Community Design Lab, the Community Food Systems Program offers design assistance for projects that can range from market and brand promotion to landscape or building assessment, and schematic design. Please download the application and submit to Courtney Long if you are interested in participating in the CFS program.

Project examples include:

  • Community gardens and orchards
  • Public edible landscapes
  • Collaborative or incubator urban farms
  • Site assessments for project development: shared-use kitchens, processing facilities, etc.
  • Awareness campaigns
  • Branding and promotional materials
  • Community or site master plans Program development and facilitation, workshop series, etc.


Projects & Research

View our previous projects and research.


Projects & Research

The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) cooperative agreement brought together a group of individuals with expertise and knowledge in food systems. In the fall of 2019, partners worked to collectively identify core competencies needed for practitioners working in food systems, created a set of learning objectives for each competency, and identified existing curricula around the nation that met the objectives described. 

This project resulted in the development of the Food Systems Practitioner & Education Resource Database, a free, national database for practitioners and educational resources in food systems.

Learn more

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach partnered with Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition to support food systems development in the territory. From 2018-2020, research was conducted to complete a community food systems assessment and snapshot, along with a Hurricane History Farmer Preparedness Checklist. 

Learn more

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach partnered with the City of Fort Dodge in Iowa to conduct a farmers market feasibility study to assess the need and current conditions for expanding the Fort Dodge Farmers Market, including both increased vendor and consumer participation, as well as lengthening the market season to year-round. The final report (2022) shares findings, site assessments, and recommendations.

Read the full report