Community Food Systems Program

The Community Food Systems (CFS) program is a multi-phased, multi-year program. 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 ServicesFood Systems Trainings and CertificationsResearch & 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.

Food Systems Trainings and Certifications

Our nationally recognized Local Food Leader (LFL) and Community Food Systems (CFS) certifications are now available in virtual or in-person format. Cohorts are offered virtually by Iowa State on a yearly schedule in addition to opportunities for outside organizations to host either in-person or virtually.  

Learn more about hosting a Food Systems Training in your organization, or community. 

Questions? Contact Kaley Hohenshell.

Local Food Leader (LFL)

The Local Food Leader Certification teaches foundational competencies critical for successful food systems development including equity in food systems, working in food systems, facilitation and coordination, evaluation, and professional development. Participants will receive a certificate of completion in Local Food Leader following completion of course.

Learn more about participating in an ISU-hosted Local Food Leader Certification. 

Local Food Leader Train the Trainer

As a certified Local Food Leader, you can teach, host, and grade cohort assignments in online modules.  As a trainer there are two professional development opportunities, an annual gathering and quarterly trainer cohort meetings.

Learn more about participating in an ISU-hosted Local Food Leader Train the Trainer. 

Community Food Systems (CFS)

The Community Food Systems Certification is a process-based certification that increases capacity for food systems practitioners to work within community and develop food systems through the following: networking, building new skills for facilitation and developing vision, mission, and core values, tools for conducting community food systems assessments, prioritization methods, evaluation techniques and project management and development. Participants will receive a certificate of completion in Community Food Systems following completion of course.

Learn more about participating in an ISU-hosted Community Food Systems Certification. 

Community Food Systems Retreat

This three-day Community Food Systems workshop is a focused session for newly formed or existing collaborative work groups.  The same learning objectives will be completed as the CFS 101. The retreat is dedicated to creating (or confirming an existing) vision, mission and values, specific goals for the specified community food system, and will include space for initial project development. Participants will leave with new facilitation and decision-making techniques, tools for community research, and project development strategies. This option does not lead to certification.

Learn more about hosting a Community Food Systems Retreat in your community or organization. 

Technical Assistance Modules

The Community Food Systems certification also offers four, self-paced technical assistance modules. Design Thinking, Economic Impact Analysis, Feasibility and Mapping 101 are offered as separate certifications and are meant to provide additional skills for technical assistance in Phase 2 of the Community Food Systems program, or other projects that you may be involved in in your community.

Learn more about participating in a technical assistance module. 

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)

Fort Dodge Farmers Market Assessment (2022)

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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