ISU Community Food Systems 2021 Annual Event makes the most of virtual format

April 6, 2021

by Bre Miller, program assistant

Screen shot of virtual conference attendees.

The seventh annual Community Food Systems Event took place on February 12, 2021. This conference brings together food systems practitioners for networking, sharing resources and learning about food systems projects and efforts occurring across the nation.

Due to the unique circumstances of COVID, we hosted this year’s event virtually for the first time. We chose to adhere to federal guidelines and respect individual, state and organizational policies.

Retail and Leadership within Community Food Systems was the 2021 theme. This reflected both issues in the food system that have risen since the start of the pandemic and critical projects and efforts that have made a difference in community food retail sector. (Click here to view the event program).

The conference featured three keynote presentations, six breakout sessions and two lightning rounds. Topics ranged from business strategies to food access. Keynote speakers included:

Screen shot of conference slide.

Breakout sessions

Breakout sessions featured twenty-one presenters from various food businesses and organizations across the nation. They shared about their work and response to COVID and their exemplary leadership roles within their local communities.

Former deputy director at USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Debra Tropp addressed business development opportunities and leadership within local food markets. She also highlighted impacts COVID has had on producers, retailers and consumers. Tropp detailed the shifts in consumer behaviors of increase in supporting local, seeking out technology for purchasing options, and increased interest in gardening.

Screen shot of conference slide.

“Hearing from people who are actually doing the work [is] always very inspiring.”

– Event attendee

Other COVID-related presentation topics included:

  • Pivoting Your Business Model During a Disruption, presented by Victor Oyervides of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Victor highlighted how a local restaurant in Iowa successfully pivoted their business model during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Working with Food-Insecure Clients During the Pandemic, presented by Aubrey Alvarez of Eat Greater Des Moines and Brigham Hoegh, Kate Olson, and Teresa Wiemerslage of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. They shared their community-level strategies for ensuring food access during the pandemic.
Screen shot of conference slide.

Working with Food-Insecure Clients During the Pandemic was “Very relevant to small, rural communities and very easy to imagine implementing.”

– Event attendee

Successful virtual gathering

The Community Food Systems Annual Event took place on Zoom and featured a total of 19 presenters and 87 registered attendees. A satisfaction survey distributed digitally showed >75 percent of respondents felt welcomed during the event, felt their voice was heard, and felt included in the interactive breakout sessions.

Most respondents claimed they learned helpful information and resources that were beneficial and relevant to their work. Attendees indicated an overall satisfaction rating of 4.4/5 (88 percent) for the event presentations. All respondents stated the event gave them a better understanding of potential projects that may be beneficial to their community.

Screen shot of conference slide.

The breakout sessions “were extremely well conceived and relevant to my research interests and volunteer/professional work” (event attendee).

The 2021 Community Food Systems Annual Event provided a space to promote, engage, and learn with other food systems practitioners while providing insight for community-based food systems actions and strategies. We built upon the resources, connections, and partnerships developed over the past six years of hosting this event while heightening awareness of various food systems work occurring around the nation.

“I always enjoy these conferences and hope to get more involved in planning food systems in the near future.”

– Event attendee

This conference will be hosted again nationally in the spring of 2022.

If you’re interested in seeing a recording of any of the three keynotes from the event, please contact me.