Community & Regional Development Resources

Convenient, affordable, and reliable access to safe nutritious food is important to the long term health of individuals, families and communities. How that food is produced and distributed can reveal a lot about the overall equity and sustainability of communities, regions and nations as a whole. Many are also recognizing the role food production and provision can play as an engine of economic and cultural renewal. A growing number of efforts are underway to assess and intentionally shape food systems based on this awareness, while increasing community capacity and resilience. The initiatives and resources listed here offer support and insight into this community and regional development work.

General Resources

  • Agriculture Sustainability Institute UC Davis and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) offer a variety of information related to food systems.
  • American Planning Association provides tools and technical support related to food systems.
  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Resources for assessing and addressing food related health problems, including diabetes and obesity.
  • Ecotrust's Food & Farms Program Variety of programs and resources focused on strengthening regional food systems.
  • FAO The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has a variety of programs and resources related to community and economic development.
  • FoodCorps A collaborative project of the National Farm to School Network, currently in the planning process. Vision is to recruit and employ young adults for a yearlong term of public service in school food systems, helping build Farm to School supply chains, expand food system and nutrition education programs, and build and tend school food gardens.
  • Hunger Free Communities Network (HFC Network) is a nation-wide platform for coalitions, campaigns and collaborations committed to ending hunger in their localities to learn from each other and share their knowledge and experience with other hunger free organizers.
  • Intervale Center A successful nonprofit organization in Burlington Vermont that has developed a unique community model on 350 acres of shared farmland, trails, wildlife corridors, a native plant nursery and compost production. Focus is on healthy, locally grown food, systems for recycling organic waste, and a financially viable and environmentally sound agricultural economy.
  • Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) is committed to promoting innovative, collaborative, and systems-based approaches to rural issues that engage decision-makers and rural people at local, regional, state, national, and international levels. Activities encompass research, policy analysis and engagement, dissemination and outreach, and decision support tools.
  • Terra Madre Conceived by Slow Food, a network of food communities committed to producing quality food in a responsible, sustainable way, while giving voice and visibility to rural food producers.
  • Toronto Food Strategy This project is an initiative to show how cities can help build a healthy and sustainable food system for the 21st century.

Community & Regional Economic Development

  • Asset-Based Community Development Institute Organization focused on helping local residents and organizations inventory and mobilize community resources
  • Common Future Formerly known as Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) network of business leaders, economic development professionals, government officials, social innovators, and community leaders helping build local living economies.
  • Community & Economic Development Resources at Cornell including Cornell Community and Regional Development Institute (CARDI)
  • Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace A study of locally owned food businesses from around the world.  Designed to highlight successful models of community food enterprises.
  • Crossroads Resource Center A non-profit organization that works with communities and their allies to foster democracy and local self-determination.  They specialize in devising new tools communities can use to create a more sustainable future, and offer several resources focused on local foods. Crossroads President, Ken Meter, is a recognized food system analyst whose work integrates market analysis, business development, systems thinking, and social concerns.
  • e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Helps communities and regions connect, learn, and share best practices for building sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems across North America.
  • Kellogg Foundation supports food systems related projects that relate to their priorities: Thriving Children, Working Families, and Equitable Communities.
  • Michigan Good Food is a policy initiative centered on the Michigan Good Food Charter. The initiative aims to promote policy changes that will advance "good food" in Michigan.
  • New York State Business Development Programs
  • Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD) Dedicated to providing research-based information that helps create regional prosperity through entrepreneurial and cluster-based innovation, while assuring balanced uses of natural resources in livable communities in the northeastern United States.
  • RUPRI (Rural Policy Research Institute) is committed to promoting innovative, collaborative, and systems-based approaches to rural issues that engage decision-makers and rural people at local, regional, state, national, and international levels. Activities supporting economic development include:
  • Wallace Center at Winrock International  supports entrepreneurs and communities as they build a new, 21st century food system that is healthier for people, the environment, and the economy through initiatives like the Food Systems Leadership Network (FSLN).
  • WealthWorks is a 21st-century approach to local and regional economic development that belongs in every community and economic development toolkit. WealthWorks brings together and connects a community’s assets to meet market demand in ways that build livelihoods that last.

Community Food Security/Food Systems Assessment

To better understand needs and opportunities, many communities and regions are conducting systematic assessments of their food systems. Exact terms and approaches vary depending on the participants and priorities, including assessments focusing on food systems, food security, and foodsheds. Many of these also contain elements of a local economic assessment.

One of the more commonly used terms, Community Food Assessment (CFA), has been defined as:

 “a collaborative and participatory process that systematically examines a broad range of community food issues and assets, so as to inform change actions to make the community more food secure" (from Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) publication What's Cooking in Your Food System: A Guide to Community Food Assessment).

Though each assessment process is unique, with the shape and outcomes defined by the communities themselves, most CFAs have three basic characteristics in common (WHY Hunger). They:

  1. Use an asset building approach, seeking ways to tap into and build on existing community resources.
  2. Engage community members to help set priorities, conduct research, and develop recommendations.
  3. Have an action orientation and include recommendations for changes; many also include specific action plans and organizing efforts to help implement these changes.

Asset Based Approaches
Asset based programming is critical to many community and regional development initiatives, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, shifting priorities, perspectives and approaches to grassroots organizing. As stated in the Southern SAWG document Growing the Community Food Movement:

“All-too-often, very well intending individuals and organizations plan their work with an intent to 'fix' communities through food. Invariably, the assets of people who do not have access to quality foods on a regular basis are overlooked. This leads to a great deal of resentment and further distance between the food have's and have not's. Most important, it further drives a deeper wedge into the local food system. This does little to increase the affordability and availability of foods. Furthermore, it perpetuates an important myth in community food systems-we are helping them. You cannot improve the local food system without helping yourself-we are them...Deficit based language creates hierarchical thinking and behavior. But, it is also suggests how power dynamics are demonstrated on the ground. Asset based language is powerful. It is inextricably linked to asset based approaches to community food organizing.”

Systems Approaches
Systems approaches seek to understand the broader complex social, economic and environmental dynamics of food production, provision and consumption as an interrelated system, not simply as a combination of elements.  Some CFAs offer very linear or compartmentalized views of food issues.  Systems based assessments should draw on a tradition of systems analysis (there are many), explicitly defining what makes a food system systemic, and what tools are used in analyzing those systems.  Depending on the approach and methods used, different things in the system will be revealed. GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) and other databases are sometimes created and used to assist in this process.

These resources offer an introduction to application of systems approaches to food systems and related project development:

  • The Family and Community Food Decision-Making Toolbox offers Community Food System (CFS) tool as a mapping exercise that helps participants to understand what constitutes a food system and how their agency fits into the current system. It also encourages participants to take an active role in improving their food system and building effective food system partnerships.
  • CFSC document Whole Measures for Community Food Systems is a values-based, community-oriented tool for evaluation, planning, and dialogue geared toward organizational and community change. Whole Measures CFS invites organizations to build on the reporting of outputs and outcomes and to highlight and measure the multitude of interconnected indicators that define a healthy, whole community.
  • WealthWorks approach emphasizes communities inventorying multiple forms of wealth generating capital, including intellectual, individual, social, natural, built, political, financial and cultural assets.

The following sites provide general examples and supporting materials related to food systems/food security assessment:

Food Policy Councils

An increasing number of communities, regions and states are forming "Food Policy Councils" to collaboratively evaluate and improve their food system. According to the (now defunct) North American Food Policy Council:

"Food Policy Councils (FPCs) bring stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine how the food system is operating and to develop recommendations on how to improve it. FPCs may take many forms, but are typically either commissioned by state or local government, or predominately a grassroots effort. Food policy councils have been successful at educating officials and the public, shaping public policy, improving coordination between existing programs, and starting new programs."

The following sites offer examples and supporting resources related to Food Policy Councils:

  • Food Policy Networks (FPN) A project of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, supports the development of effective and robust food policy at the state and local levels. Resources include an extensive database representing food policy work in the form of action plans, how-to guides, ordinances, academic studies and more. 
  • Hunger Action Network of New York State is actively involved in supporting food policy work in NYS.
  • Interactive Google Map of Food Policy Councils with links to respective pages/documents
  • Mark Winne is a recognized food policy expert who writes, speaks, and consults extensively on a range of community food system topics. His website archives a number of essential documents related to food policy councils and local food system networks.
  • New York State Council on Hunger and Food Policy convenes to provide state policymakers with expertise on how to address hunger and improve access to healthy, locally-grown food for New York State residents.
  • WhyHunger offers food policy council related resources

Food Hubs

While CSAs, farmers markets and farm stands have provided a jump start to the local food movement, many (including farmers) are recognizing the need for infrastructure that better supports the long term needs and interests of communities and food systems stakeholders, and enables regional scaling. “Food Hub” projects are becoming an increasingly popular approach in addressing weaknesses, or the “missing middle” in local and regional food systems. Their focus can vary widely from a narrow emphasis on supporting market efficiency to goals of building an inclusive, equitable and diverse food culture. Food hubs can consist of physical facilities, community services and/or communication/coordination systems. Information technology is increasingly being used as part of this effort to bridge gaps in food networks –some of these are listed in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) section of this guide.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Resource Center defined food hubs as:

“activities supporting the coordination of value chain activities along the value chain, including the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”

The National Food Hub Collaboration, including the Wallace Center, USDA Agricultural Marketing ServiceNational Good Food Network, Farm Credit Council, School Food Focus, Wholesome Wave Foundation, Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University, and National Farm to School Network, is working to promote food hubs in the US. The Collaboration collects and analyzes the latest data, research and activities related to food hubs and works to ensure the success of existing and emerging food hubs in the United States.

A number of food hub initiatives are listed in this guide, particularly on the NYS Regions and Other Regions pages. Here are a few information resources related to food hubs:

Spatial Analysis & Mapping of Food Systems

Many initiatives and resources listed elsewhere in this guide (including Assessment and Food Policy Council sections) provide examples of how spatial analysis and mapping can be used to better understand and support local and regional food systems. In some cases formal application of GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) technology is used. The Data section of this guide provides a list of other sources to draw from in conducting these types of analysis, including many social and environmental indicators.

Here are resources specifically applicable to the spatial analysis and mapping of food systems and related indicators. Most are relevant to New York State or the US.

  • CARES Engagement Network is an interactive destination for community leaders and decision-makers developed by the Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES). Populated with both national and local data, the site features interactive maps, reports, and resources to serve all cities and counties across the United States. .
  • Center for Disease Control Chronic Disease GIS Exchange -Site designed for public health managers, community leaders, GIS users, epidemiologists, and others interested in using GIS to prevent heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. The intent is to provide a forum for sharing specific examples, ideas and techniques for using GIS to document geographic disparities, inform policy and program development, and build partnerships.
  • An interactive mapping, networking, and learning utility for the broad-based healthy, sustainable, and livable communities’ movement. Includes several collections of maps and data related to food.
  • Compost Facilities Map (NYS) Cornell Waste Management Institute
  • Cornell University Geospatial Information Repository (CUGIR) CUGIR provides geospatial data and metadata for New York State, with a special emphasis on agriculture, ecology, natural resources, and human-environment interactions. Includes Ag district, soils and demographic data. Most data requires the use of specialized GIS software.
  • County Health Rankings & Roadmaps help communities create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their own communities, focusing on specific factors that we know affect health, such as education and income
  • Equitable Development Toolkit Community Mapping from PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity.
  • ESRI ArcGIS Online Resources, including ArcGIS Online Food Deserts Group, sharing data, maps and web apps related to food deserts. ArcGIS Online related article.
  • Feeding America offers resources on researching hunger, including Map the Meal Gap, released each year showing hunger in every county.
  • GIS Support at Cornell - guide maintained by Mann Library listing GIS resources and services at Cornell and beyond, including courses, free tools, and data sources
  • Healthy Food Access Portal, an online gateway to information and resources for communities and policymakers working to improve access to healthy food. The portal provides resources designed to improve healthy food access in communities, build local economies, and enhance public health. Launched by The Reinvestment Fund, PolicyLink and The Food Trust
  • offers a variety of useful tools for exploring and mapping local and regional food systems, helping entrepreneurs work together to grow businesses rooted in agriculture.
  • Mapping Local Foodwebs Toolkit UK initiative supported by the Campaign to Support Rural England (CSRE) to engage the skills and knowledge of local people in order to research the social, economic and environmental impacts of local foodwebs.
  • Mapping Potential Local Foodsheds in New York State:
    • A Spatial Analysis of the Capacity to Produce Food Closer to the Point of Consumption -Christian Peters, Cornell University dissertation 2007 (available to Cornell patrons from Proquest dissertations and theses)
    • A Spatial Model for Evaluating the Capacity to Localize Food Production -Christian J. Peters, Nelson L. Bills, Arthur J. Lembo, Jennifer L. Wilkins, and Gary W. Fick. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems: 24(1); 72–84
    • Testing a complete-diet model for estimating the land resource requirements of food consumption and agricultural carrying capacity: The New York State example. Peters, C.J., J.L. Wilkins, and G.W. Fick. 2007. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22(2): 145-153.
  • MarketMaker National partnership dedicated to the development of a comprehensive interactive data base of food industry marketing and business data. Extensive collection of searchable food industry related data. All information can be mapped and queried by the user. Available in select states, including New York.
  • MarketSizer and Hubsizer are tools developed by New Venture Advisors use data from public and private sources to better understand the profitability potential of a new food venture, or suitability of existing facilities for that.
  • Maryland Food System Map Created by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future is a free, easy-to-use mapping application that incorporates data on the food system, public health and the environment. 
  • Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory Listing of establishments that produce meat, poultry, and/or egg products regulated by USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), including slaughter facilities. Includes address and other contact information that can be used to "geocode" and map locations.
  • New York State Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Clearinghouse Operated by the NYS ITS the GIS Program Office was established to disseminate information about New York's Statewide GIS Coordination Program and to provide access to the New York State GIS Data and Metadata Repository.
  • PolicyMap Online mapping capabilities of over 10,000 indicators related to demographics, real estate, city crime rates, health, schools, housing affordability, employment, energy, and public investments. Can be used to map and download (via the Table Features tool) food related data, including Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) data.
  • Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is a community which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. Public Lab program is focused on civic science to generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health, including aerial imagery and maps.
  • Regional Foodshed Initiatives for Northeast US at Columbia University Urban Design Lab
  • Reinvestment Fund offers a variety of food access related resources, including the Limited Supermarket Access analysis tool.
  • San Francisco Collaborative Food System Assessment Extensive use of GIS to map San Francisco food system.
  • SimplyAnalytics (formerly SimplyMap) is a web-based mapping application to create professional quality, interactive thematic maps and reports using thousands of U.S. demographic, business, and marketing variables. Select, sort, and compare data across multiple geographic locations and create custom reports exportable to spreadsheets. (Cornell user access link).
  • Social Explorer Online research tool designed to provide quick and easy access to modern and historical census data and demographic information. Create fast, intuitive, and illustrative maps and reports to help visually analyze and understand demography and social change throughout history. (Cornell user access link)
  • SoilWeb: An Online Soil Survey Browser Online soil survey data services from UC Davis, including phone apps. Can be used to access NRCS-NCSS 1:24,000 scale detailed soil survey data (SSURGO) in many parts of the lower 48 states.
  • USDA is one of the best places to start a search for USDA data and other federal government data, including geospatial data or data that can be imported into a GIS. Downloadable geospatial data sets are also available from the USDA Geospatial Data Gateway The links below provide just a sampling of what you might find from each agency. Please note that these links, products, and agencies themselves may change over time and administration.
    • Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) services offer useful data related to local food research and development, including:
    • Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the USDA's chief scientific in-house research agency. ARS programs generate many publicly accessible data products that are catalogued in the National Agricultural Library Ag Data Commons. Specialized datasets/tools like the Plant Hardiness Zone Map is available as an interactive GIS-based map, which gardeners and growers can use to determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.
    • Economic Research Service (ERS) Data Center Mapping formats available on this site range from snapshot images/data visualizations to interactive mapping programs, to downloadable data and web services which can be imported into GIS. Includes:
      • Food Access Research Atlas: Presents a spatial overview of food access indicators for low-income and other census tracts using different measures of supermarket accessibility; provides food access data for populations within census tracts; and offers census-tract-level data on food access that can be downloaded for community planning or research purposes.
      • Food Environment Atlas From ERS, assembles statistics on three broad categories of food environment factors: food choices, health and well-being and community characteristics. They can be queried and mapped interactively, for the US as a whole or for specific states/counties. Includes data on food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.
    • Farm Services Agency (FSA) offers a variety of imagery related products, including the Geospatial Enterprise Operations (GEO) Branch [formerly Aerial Photography Field Office (APFO)] National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) digital imagery. NAIP acquires aerial imagery during the agricultural growing seasons in the continental U.S. Imagery (RGB and near-infrared), and is available to the public for download from the NRCS Geospatial Data Gateway.
    • Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) data and research
    • National Agricultural Library houses one of the world's largest collections devoted to agriculture and its related sciences. NAL's Ag Data Commons is a public, government, scientific research data catalog and repository available to help the agricultural research community share and discover research data funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and meet Federal open access requirements. GeoData is a pilot geospatial data catalog at the National Agricultural Library currently offering a subset of several hundred catalog entries.
    • National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) data and statistics, including:
      • CropScape, a geospatial data service which offers advanced tools such as interactive visualization, web-based data on Science and Systems at George Mason University and is hosted on their website. The associated Cropland Data Layers mapping/query tool includes ability to analyze/extract county production acreage by year and crop, and export as spreadsheet.

      • VegScape, a geospatial data service which offers automated updates of vegetative condition at daily, weekly, and biweekly intervals, and interactive vegetation indices, developed in cooperation with the Center for Spatial Information Science and Systems at George Mason University.

  • Vermont Food System Atlas features thousands of food system resources, including stories, videos, job listings, data, a searchable map, and all sections of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. The Atlas is also the communications and coordination platform for the Farm to Plate Network responsible for implementing the strategies of the Plan.

Funding Sources