Assessing the Collective Impact of Community Food Projects

Friday, April 13, 2018 // Kristen Irvin, National Technical Assistance Coordinator

Youth involved in the Young Ag Entrepreneurs program at Emory Urban Health Initiative

I don’t believe I would be a business owner as quickly if not for the help I received through this program. And my unhealthy eating habits have done a 180.”

-Community Food Projects participant, 2017

The Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program (“CFP”) has engaged over 500,000 individuals in low-income and food insecure neighborhoods across the country since 2014. The program has been in operation under the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for over 2 decades and has supported innovative projects across the US, helping communities work toward food security and self-reliance. Between 2014 and 2017, 123 projects have received CFP funding benefiting over 900,000 community members, including over 3,700 farmers. At the core of CFP is support for community self-resiliency through better access to fresh, healthy food, but the projects that grantee organizations operate include activities that impact participants – and communities at large – in ways that build greater overall health, confidence, and economic sustainability.

One beneficiary of the Molokai Food Hub, a Community Food Project based in Hawaii run by Sustainable Molokai, stated that being involved in that project has “made it easy to utilize fresh local produce and to support local farmers.” He continues, “Before the program, it was impossible to know of availability and to access local produce. The program has expanded my creativity in cooking as we try and work with what is available on a weekly basis.”

The Molokai Food Hub is just one example of how CFPs integrate nutrition education, support for local farmers, and business creation to improve community food security. Those three areas are cornerstones of CFP, and indeed the USDA NIFA prioritizes CFP applicants who create strong project evaluation plans that measure indicators of progress toward those areas of success. The “Indicators of Success” is a report that New Entry publishes annually based on responses to a survey required of all active CFP grantees. The Indicators of Success survey is based on the six categories of Whole Measures for Community Food Systems: Healthy People; Strong Communities; Thriving Local Economies; Vibrant Farms and Gardens; Sustainable Ecosystems; and Justice and Fairness. While individual Community Food Projects may work in vastly different landscapes, implementing diverse programming that may address one or more of those categories, collectively they are transforming our approach to healthy communities and improving food security.

New Entry has been honored to serve as the technical assistance provider for CFP applicants and grantees since 2014. As part of this work, New Entry provides feedback and guidance to applicants, and facilitates trainings on project planning and evaluation development. After we finalize and send the Indicators of Success Report to the CFP program staff at NIFA, the report is passed on to the US Congress to advocate to continuation of the program. New Entry strongly encourages individuals and organizations in low-income and food-insecure areas to help us advocate for CFP’s future funding. This year, the program faces an uphill battle, as food system lobbying efforts shift toward increased funding for beginning farmer education programs, thus potentially subtracting from – or eliminating all together – support for CFP. New Entry is strongly committed to encouraging increased funding for both farmer training programs as well as Community Food Projects. How can you help to ensure CFP funding is maintained? Read the Fiscal Year 2017 Community Food Projects Indicators of Success Report by clicking here and spread the word to your representatives and those involved in food systems advocacy work in your community.

What else have Community Food Project beneficiaries said about the program’s impact?

It has helped me make connections between our local food system and the community of people who live in the county. Although there is a lot of produce grown here, those who are disadvantaged in society often don't have access to it. This program has supported efforts to bridge that gap and give people in the community access to produce, and knowledge about its nutrition and preparation.”

It's given me so much more knowledge about inequality, racism, access to resources, and the importance of community.”

It helps me get fresh produce in a dependable way; increases the variety and also helps the entire community because farmers have a regular and dependable market. It just makes sense to have fresh local produce available to local residents and this program does just that.”

Changed the way I eat and showed me how to make a meal right out the garden without having to go to the grocery store.”