AMES, Iowa – Working with food means working with people, and as communities, schools and organizations look to grow their food programs, they can count on the resources of the Food Systems Team with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
As part of the larger Farm, Food and Enterprise Development Program, the Food Systems Team helps communities and organizations through community-based food systems that involve participant-led projects around community food, Farm to School and food access.
The Community Food Systems approach takes a three-year look at developing and designing community, local and regional food systems.
The program helps communities research and assess existing conditions, identify values, vision and mission, and design and implement priority projects.
Courtney Long, project coordinator with the Farm, Food and Enterprise Development Program with ISU Extension and Outreach, said clients for the community food systems include city planners, hospitals, schools and universities, and smaller groups like Iowa Master Gardeners.
“We’re really a diverse team,” Long said. “It’s really about working with community members and providing what they need.”
Some of the specific services include coalition development, community food system assessment, and technical assistance around various areas of the food system including Farm to School programming, site design, systems development and more.
Through coalition development, the team facilitates discussions with the community to determine vision, mission and core values related to food systems. This can lead to prioritization of projects and more cohesive understanding of goals in the community.
Through community food system assessment, the team evaluates the existing conditions of the community-based food systems sectors, and how those aspects relate and connect to community values. The assessment also includes public input sessions that include meetings with residents to evaluate public opinion and need.
Lastly, technical assistance involves helping community organizers with technical projects, such as brand promotion, landscape and building assessment, and schematic design, as well as specific projects around Farm to School gardens, procurement and curriculum.
According to Long, local food systems tend to be “more holistic” and wide-reaching than in years past. Today’s food systems not only include food access, but also the environmental, social and economic impact. What it boils down to, Long said, is “community development around food.”
In addition to these services, the Food Systems Team offers three certifications practitioners can obtain through in-person and online study: Local Food Leader, Community Food Systems and Mapping 101.