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.

CFS staff members include Courtney Long, team lead and program coordinator; Kaley Hohenshell, program coordinator; and Bre Miller, program assistant.

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.

(Looking for information on the ISU Community Food Systems Annual Event? Click here.)

Menu of ServicesCertification ProgramsResearch & Previous ProjectsCommunity Assets & SectorsEvaluation

COVID-19 Food Systems Technical Assistance Platform:

Institutions and organizations—including farmers, food businesses, cities, schools, state agencies, and nonprofits—are encouraged to share needs for food systems engagement in regard to COVID-19 responses and/or other on-going efforts. Please complete this short online form to share your technical assistance needs and be connected with staff who can provide assistance on a variety of projects.

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

Apply for the program

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. Community Food Systems Assessment

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:

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. Technical Assistance (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 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.

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 US 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 builds 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.

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.

Mapping 101: This certification is appropriate for individuals interested in understanding how to create maps for decision making and building new skills in QGIS for data and map development. Mapping 101 is offered as a separate certification but also is included in the Full and Assessor certifications through Community Food Systems.

For information on participating in any of these certification programs, contact Kaley Hohenshell.

Interested in hosting a program? Learn more.

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).

Below you will find an overview of Community Food Systems work we have done for previous clients. If the item produced a report or design, you will find those at the links.

Food Systems Core Competencies Project (2020)

Food Systems Core Competencies Project Summary (USDA AMS; PDF, 2 pp)

Food System Core Competency Project Report (CFS team; PDF, 142 pp)

Example Competency-Based Learning Objective Matrix (CFS team; Excel spreadsheet)

Food Systems Practitioner and Educational Resource Database

Food Systems Core Competency presentation | NACDEP 2020
(YouTube video, 1:11:29)

US Virgin Islands (2018-2020)

Linn County Food Rescue Project (2020)

Pleasant Hill (2016-2019)

Lutheran Services in Iowa Global Greens Program (2019)

Incubator Farm Case Studies

North Iowa Food Coalition (2015-2018)

Boy and woman stand next to community garden sign.
Community garden sign.


Charles City food forest.

Dubuque Eats Well (2015-2018)

Cass County (2015-2018)

Des Moines (2014-2017)

Cedar Rapids (2014-2017)

High school students look at design on paper.
Designing with BIG students.

Cresco (2014-2016)

Group in garden.
Seed Savers training.
Man grafting plant buds.
Bud grafting.

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: The Community Food Systems Program has been developed based on community engagement practices of public interest design, strategic doing and collective impact.  Additionally, the community capitals framework informed the initial pilot in terms of determining assets to research within communities.  The initial 7 capitals evolved to include 6 asset areas based on strategic partner participation and critique in the pilot phase.

Equity: equitable access to social goods, services, property, freedom of speech; includes equal opportunity for access to a healthy and good quality of life. Education: experiences and programming related to food systems and health for a deeper understanding and increased opportunities to build skills.
Wellness: positive 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 to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. Economy: wealth and resources of a community or region that relate to the development and consumption of goods and services.

Food System Sectors: Due to the complexity of food systems, our work seeks to understand the various components and sectors within the food system and how they connect and impact, or are impacted by, community assets.

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, urban farming. Transformation + Processing: transformation of raw ingredients, physically or chemically, transforming into a value-added product; may include value-added processing, freezing and canning, butcher shop.
Distribution + Marketing: moving product from farm or processing site to consumer; may include grocery stores, food hubs, food boxes, community-supported agriculture (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, 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, 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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