Community Food Systems Project

Community Food Assessment 

A Community Food Assessment (CFA) is a powerful tool used to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a local food system in order to make improvements. A CFA brings together diverse stakeholders in a community to research how food is produced and consumed in a specific region.

In 2008, a small group of Southern Illinois citizens became curious about the state of the local food system in the region and began to explore the possibility of conducting a CFA to get a snapshot of the local food system in the region. The group wanted to hear from growers about their interest in producing for local markets, from consumers about how much local food they're buying and their interest in purchasing more, and to find out how willing and prepared area grocery stores were to place more locally-grown food on their shelves. A presentation to a large group of stakeholders by Dayna Conner on the power of CFAs received an enthusiastic response, resulting in the formation of a CFA steering committee in July. The steering committee adopted the consensus decision-making process and defined its geographical region to focus on Jackson and Union Counties.

The first phase of the CFA was to establish its project goals so the committee could find key indicators to develop pertinent research questions in order to arrive at the necessary and best research methods to reach our objectives. Four subcommittees were created to work within the areas of production, infrastructure, consumer access, and consumer awareness and education.

In April 2009, the steering committee agreed upon its goals and objectives and began the research and development stage. A 12-member CFA team was formed which broke into four groups to develop research instruments for markets, production, consumer access, and secondary data collection. In October 2009, the CFA team along with dozens of community volunteers administered 577 consumer surveys on a Saturday morning in front of area grocery stores. In March and April 2010 the team administered a retail market manager survey and a series of farmer focus groups to gather primary data about how local food is produced and marketed locally. Then followed the lengthy process of analyzing, consolidating, and documenting the survey data, focus group inputs, and secondary data findings. The report was completed in August 2012.

The CFA was a community-led and executed study. Community members made decisions about what was important to know, created and administered the surveys, and helped process the data. The resulting data interpretation and report organization could not have been achieved without the capable and adept assistance of student researchers from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary 

Ch. 1 Introduction 

Ch. 2 Consumption and local food access 

Ch. 3 Infrastructure and Retail Marketing Opportunites

Ch. 4 Production  and Marketing  of Local Food 

Ch. 5 Synthesis  and Summary of Findings
Community Food Assessment PDF: Click the download icon

Executive Summary

The Jackson and Union County Community Food Assessment (CFA) was initiated in 2008 and carried out through 2010. The community residents who participated were united in identifying current local food system elements and highlighting the needs, as well as the existing assets. The assessment served as an excellent tool with which to speak to the community and identify the projects that might strengthen our local food system.

A steering committee of more than 20 local residents originally mapped out several questions about the food system which were translated into objectives for the project. The CFA Team then used a variety of methods to analyze the production, marketing and consumption of food in the two counties. To ensure that the research was relevant and meaningful, two graduate students from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale were recruited to assist. The data collected was processed and interpreted with a great deal of effort on the part of the student researchers. We then reviewed census data, previously conducted CFAs, and other available research and information. Our research showed that there is tremendous opportunity for local food system development in Jackson and Union counties. At the same time, the area has many wonderful advantages and resources on which to build.

Community food security was the catalyst for the assessment. The CFA Team saw the information gathered as a means of supporting community-led approaches to increasing the amount of food grown and consumed locally in a manner that is accessible to all citizens. While there are significant barriers to the production, distribution and marketing of locally grown food, the findings detailed in this report serve as a starting point for residents to work together to create a more resilient local food system.
Food Works is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a sustainable food economy in Southern Illinois.
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