Community Food Systems Program

The Community Food Systems (CFS) program is a multi-phased, multi-year program housed within the Farm, Food and Enterprise Development and  Community and Economic Development programs of ISU Extension and Outreach.

The program began in the spring of 2014 under the leadership of the Community Design Lab (CDL) at Iowa State as the Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit. It has now transitioned to an Extension program entitled the Community Food Systems Program. The process still directly partners with CDL for design assistance. Click here for a one-page overview of the program.

Community Food Systems: planning, consulting and design.Over the last several years, we have created a transferable process that partners with communities to develop and design their local and regional food systems. The process is devoted to long-term community empowerment and lasting impacts. We have worked with eight communities in Iowa, and have helped implement more than 30 projects. These projects have ranged from new business development to edible landscapes, awareness campaigns, urban orchards, and many more.

Courtney Long is the primary coordinator of this program. You can email her here.

Kaley Hohenshell is a program coordinator. Email her here. Breanna Miller is the program assistant. Email her here.

This program partners with communities to develop and design their local and regional food systems. Devoted to long-term community empowerment and lasting impacts, the program requires deep community engagement over two phases:

Phase One: Research and Coalition Development:

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

Phase Two: Design and Implementation:

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

Click on the tabs below to learn more.

Menu of ServicesCertification ProgramResearch & Previous ProjectsCommunity Core ValuesEvaluation

CFS diagramCommunity Process (2-phased project, typically 2-3 years in length):

The Community Food Systems program is a multi-phased, three-year consultation and partnership with communities to develop and design their local and regional food system. 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

Outputs and outcomes include:

Phase 1: Coalition development; developing a name, mission, vision, and core values along with logo design; public input session materials; community food system assessment; community food system snapshot; 4 or 5 priority projects determined for implementation in phase 2 (we suggest two quick-win projects, one intermediate, and one long-term project).

Phase 2: Design development and assistance in implementation of the 4 or 5 prioritized projects; project management and design; grant writing; and consultation with ISU faculty and staff experts as needed. The ISU Community Design Lab collaborates with the program in Phase 2 to deliver 220 hours of work that is divvied appropriately between projects for successful implementation.


1. 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.

2. Food System Assessment

In order to know what a coalition or community would like to see happen, it is critical to understand what already exists. The Food System 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 System Assessment and Community Food Systems Snapshot. Includes one public input session (see description below).

3. 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.

4. Community Food System Design Development (cost varies based on application)

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, landscape or building assessment, and schematic design. Please download an application and share more about your proposed project, and the Community Design Lab or Program Coordinator will be in touch about feasibility and next steps.

Some project examples include:

  • Community gardens and orchards
  • Public edible landscapes
  • Collaborative or incubator Farms
  • 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.

Click here for a more comprehensive list of food systems projects, or tactics.

If you are interested in any of these services, please contact Courtney Long at this email.

The Community Food Systems Program (CFSP) received a grant in 2017 from the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center to develop and pilot two national certification programs: Local Food Leader certification, and Community Food Systems certification.

  • Local Food Leader: a foundational practice certification that build capacity for individual engagement within the food system. The certification develops individual skills including: building trust, facilitation, knowledge of the food system, evaluation techniques, leadership, plan of work development and professional development plans. Here is a two-page overview of the goals and curriculum of the Local Food Leader certification.

Local Food Leader Online Module Syllabus

  • Community Food Systems: a process based certification that increases capacity for food system practitioners to work in and develop food systems. It teaches a needed framework for food systems development that walks through a three year process that started in Iowa in 2014. This certification is unique because it both focuses on collective decision making and strategic planning methods, as well as unique opportunities to tie in technical assistance such as economic impact analysis, feasibility studies, and design thinking. This is relevant because food systems are dynamic and unique. This certification will equip participants in various different skill sets and facilitation methods, as well as team building; participants will develop different strategies for decision-making, and will have the ability to bring projects from thinking to project implementation for reaching systems based goals. Here is a four-page overview of goals and curriculum of the Community Food Systems certification.

Community Food Systems Assessor Certification Syllabus
Community Food Systems Design Thinking Certification Syllabus
Community Food Systems Economic Impact Certification Syllabus
Community Food Systems Facilitator Certification Syllabus
Community Food Systems Feasibility Certification Syllabus
Community Food Systems Full Certification Syllabus

For information on participating in one or both of these certification programs, contact Kaley Hohenshell.

Community Food Systems certification training in the US Virgin Islands (2019; 2:50 video).

Local Food Leader certification training in the US Virgin Islands (2019; 2:40 video).

Cass County (2015-2018)

Community Food Systems Assessment and Assessment Snapshot

Farm to School: Cass County Farm to School Coalition and Toolkit

Promotion: Food Policy Council and Coalition Visioning

Edible Landscape and Community Garden: Atlantic Public Gardens

Food Recovery: Cass County Food Waste Survey and Event

Cedar Rapids (2014-2017)


Urban Orchard: Noelridge Park 

Urban Farm: Old MacDonald’s Farm and Park

Awareness Campaign: Feed Iowa First Beginning Farmers Brochure

Edible Landscape and Community Garden: Horizon’s Food Access Program

Edible Landscape: Coe College Master Plan

Cresco (2014-2016)


Edible Landscape

Educational Programming: Community Survey

Des Moines (2014-2017)


Awareness Campaign: Eat Greater Des Moines

Awareness Campaign: Community Garden Panel

Urban Orchard: Unity Point Community Orchard

Food Box: Des Moines Food Box

Public Market Precedent Report

Dubuque (2015-2018)

Community Food Systems Assessment Overview, Sector-Based Assessmentand Assessment Snapshot

Pollinator Habitat: Partnership with 4H Pollinator program

Farm to Institution and Promotion: Farmer Buyer Connections, Research and Meet N’ Greet & Farmer and Buyer Toolkit for Wholesale Readiness

Edible Landscape: Bee Brand Food Forest

Incubator Farm: Sinsinawa Mound Collaborative Farm

Food Access: Double Up Food Bucks

North Iowa Food Coalition (2015-2018)


Edible Landscape: Charles City Food Forest

Food Hub: North Iowa Fresh and One Village Aggregation Facility

Policy and Promotion: Food Policy Discussion

Farmers Market: Healthy Harvest Farmers Market Coalition

Pleasant Hill (2016-2019)

Agrihood Request for Information


Promotion: Grow Pleasant Hill

Farmers Market: Pleasant Hill Farmers Market

Agrihood: Precedent Report

Food Center: Research on existing shared-use kitchen and certified kitchen spaces

Lutheran Services in Iowa Global Greens Program (2019)

Incubator Farm Case Studies

The Community Food Systems Program has been developed based on community engagement practices of public interest design, strategic doing, and collective impact. The assessment and research theories have been developed from social field theory and community capitals.

From this understanding, and community input within the pilot three years of the program, CFS has created core values and definitions for food systems sectors that allow for cross-cutting research within the first phase of the process. Additionally, CFS operating procedures are followed and encouraged within coalition meetings and priority projects.

Community Core Values: 

Social Equity: offering same status and equal access to social goods, services, property and freedom of speech. Education: promoting experiences and programming related to food systems and health for a deeper understanding and increased opportunities to build skills.
Wellness: health status of a community, and individuals that live in it, as it relates to access to affordable and effective options for quality of life. Environment (built and natural): Surrounding conditions that include both natural environment and built space in which a person or animal lives.
Policy: principles or actions that have been adopted by governments, businesses and individuals. Economy: wealth and resources of a community or region that relate to the development and consumption of goods and services.

Food System Sectors:

Production: Science, art, or occupation that involves cultivating land, raising crops, feeding, breeding, or raising livestock as well as hunting, fishing, or foraging. May include:  gardening, specialty crop production, and urban farming. Transformation + Processing: Transformation of raw ingredients, physically or chemically, transforming into a value-added market. May include value-added processing, freezing and canning, and butcher shop.
Distribution + Marketing: Moving product from farm or processing site to consumer, including distribution and sales. May include grocery stores, food hubs, food boxes, and CSA. Consumption + Access: Opportunities for an individual to gain access to food in a physically safe, financially viable, and culturally competent way. May include restaurants, food pantries, food trucks, and meal assistance programs.
Resource Management: Efficient and effective deployment and allocation of community and business resources as it relates to land, water, soil, plants, food and created materials. May include conservation programs, food waste recovery, and composting.  

Operating Principles:

Equity and Inclusion: equity in all parts of decision making; works against inequities seen; and at any chance, try to bring disenfranchised groups to the decision-making process

Communication and Collaboration: Open and honest communication, completeness and authentic conversations

Respect: Acceptance of differing opinions, and willingness to come to a compromise when needed

Collective Action: Set and work towards common goals determined by the coalition

Shared Purpose and Participation: Sincere participation and shared-purpose among the groups in meetings and activity

Take a look at this slide presentation for more information on Global, Local, and Community Food Systems.

UPDATE COMING SOON! The Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit (to be renamed Community Food Systems Toolkit) is a resource for communities to learn about community food systems design and the tactics used to develop local food systems. It can be used as a full book or portions can be downloaded for specific tactics. In the booklet you will find an overview of agricultural urbanism as a design strategy as well as a brief synopsis of the Community Food Systems Program design process and its role in local food system development. The booklet provides an overview of 19 tactics from small- to large-scale implementation of local food system opportunities, ranging from gardening to urban farming to food hubs. Each tactic describes the goal, community benefits, and community outcomes; it reveals best management practices nationally, as well as local practices from communities that have partnered in the Community Food Systems Program design process.

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