Community Food Assessment: A Tool to Build Community Voice

How to get the most democratic bang for your buck with a CFA: tips on organizing, building coalitions and advocating for policy change.

The process of a community food assessment is a powerful way for a community to advocate for its own health and well-being. The steps of a CFA, from gathering input and envisioning change to organizing and taking action allow all members of the community to have a voice in the process. The recommendations that emerge from a CFA are created as the result of an equitable, collaborative process that strengthens the community.

At every stage, organizing is a key activity to ensure that everyone’s input is heard. Once a CFA has been completed you’ve reached a point to recommend policy change, its important to have a group of people to call upon who are invested in seeing these recommendations through and are ready to attend meetings and share their experiences.
  • Get the Word Out: Policy recommendations must be heard and understood, both by policy makers and by their constituents. A key step to advocacy around policy issues is to raise the level of awareness within the community on food issues. Dissemination of assessment findings, implications and recommendations in mass media outlets is critical to getting policymakers’ attention and support.
  • Build Coalitions: The CFA process highlights food as an important part of the community, often at the intersection of many critical issues. This can allow you to identify areas of common interest with other groups. Building coalitions with other community advocacy organizations can further the cause and deliver mutual benefits. Some examples include partnering with an affordable housing agency on policies giving developers incentive to set aside land for urban agriculture projects, or working with economic development agencies on strategies for food-based economic development. Asking “what can be gained by systematic focus on food?” or “how can we advance common goals by incorporating food into your organization’s objectives?” can help to steer partnerships.
  • Think Globally, Act Locally: Finally, a great deal of food access at the community level is influenced by federal policy. For example, the government subsidizes production of corn, soy and other commodity crops (which are mostly turned into cattle feed or high fructose corn syrup to make a larger profit), but doesn’t support small farmers growing diverse vegetable and fruit crops. Small farmers growing healthy foods have to bear many more of their costs — and pass them onto the consumer — while subsidized crops show up in high-sugar and high-fat foods priced artificially low as a result of being supported by government payments. These factors affect the prices and availability of food at the community level. Communities involved with their food system as a result of the CFA process are well-informed to advocate for changes in the federal policies whose effects trickle down to the local level. 
Updated 6/2013