Infrastructure and Planning – Community Food Systems Program

The Community Food Systems Program (formerly the Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit) is led by ISU’s Community Design Lab and funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. It is a process that promotes public interest through engagement with community leaders, leading to a holistic design incorporating community values around food. We use agricultural urbanism tactics to promote local food system revitalization in communities. The toolkit has the potential to improve food security, create resilient communities, promote social equity, increase environmental diversity, and build financial sustainability for individuals and communities.

Ag urbanism TKThe Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit Booklet is a resource for communities to learn about community food systems design. 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 Design Lab’s Community Food Systems program 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 design process.

Community Food Systems Program tactics include:

  • Backyard Gardens
  • Community, Faith and School gardens
  • Public Edible Landscapes
  • Community Supported Agriculture
  • Rural and Urban Farms
  • Farmers Markets
  • Public Markets and Restaurants
  • Processing Facilities
  • Food Boxes and Food Carts
  • Shared-Use Kitchens and Food Hubs
  • Food enterprise Centers
  • Education Centers

Community Food Systems Program connects natural and built environments through design and planning to create holistic food systems that assist in community redevelopment, revitalization and sustainability.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Food system Revitalization
  • Promotion of closed-loop production
  • Sustainable practices
  • Economic Development
  • Safe, healthy food
  • Improved exercise opportunities
  • Beauty and improved environment
  • Education on food system
  • New business development
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Community engagement
  • Creative programming
  • Access to open space
  • Partnership

The Community Food Systems Program is a planning process that helps Iowa communities explore their ag-related resources and needs to make fresh, local food products more widely available to residents at all income levels. The design process involves community capacity-building, research and analysis, public input, tactic prioritizations, and design documentation.

Courtney Long of the ISU Design Lab began working with three communities in 2013 – a rural town, a neighborhood network, and an urban coalition – to understand how each uses similar tactics to develop creative design solutions for local food systems. The communities were Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Cresco. The process involves: identifying steering committees, hosting public charrettes, creating design documentation, and building final reports for transferability of the process.

Coalitions built with the support of local foods team staff (Lynn Heuss began working with Courtney in 2016) in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids have “graduated” from the three-year process and will continue to operate independently to advocate for local food systems. Dubuque, Cass County, and several northern Iowa counties (with the leadership of Healthy Harvest of North Iowa) began Community Food Systems design projects in 2014, and Pleasant Hill held its first coalition meeting in June 2016.

To learn more about the program, contact Courtney Long at

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