Community Food Assessment: Policy & Advocacy

Learn how legislation and community advocacy can support community food assessments and recommendations.

A central goal of many community food assessments (CFAs) is to lay the groundwork for policy change that will support a healthier food environment. While many of the challenges highlighted by a CFA can be addressed at the community level, some recommendations relate to a larger scale of city, state or regional policy. It is helpful when possible to have relevant political actors involved in the process to support the development — and especially the implementation — of the recommendations of a completed CFA.
The Role of Policymakers: Supporting Community Food Assessments
Community food assessments are tremendously important advocacy tools. By identifying specific challenges and resources in the community’s food system, an assessment points to concrete areas around which to organize and lobby for change. The specific data on demographics, mapping, poverty and food access issues in a CFA report highlight valuable insights and can make a strong case to policymakers.
At the federal level, community food assessments can be partially funded as part of USDA Community Food Project (CFP) grants. Conducting a CFA at the outset of any food-system project ensures relevant stakeholders are at the table and invested in the planning. The information gathered through a CFA can lead to the development of relevant programmatic or policy goals that take the current gaps and strengths of the food environment into account.
Government agencies at the state and local level often play a role in facilitating the CFA process, lending support in the form of direct funding, use of resources or staff time to implement the resulting recommendations. In recent years, cities have stepped up to take on the role of leading this process through various city government departments in collaboration with community leaders and organizations. Some of these have included:
Relevant Policy Intersections
 A key aspect of a community food assessment is the knowledge of how local, state and federal policies affect food access. When conducting a CFA and determining recommendations, some policy areas to consider include land-use and planning policies, zoning, transportation, health codes, community plans, administration of nutrition programs such as SNAP and school meals, conservation and farming policies. Asking questions about the relationship between community food system goals and existing plans and policies can be very useful:

How do zoning regulations affect the location, type and distribution of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, gardens or food assistance sites? Does the local economic development plan include the marketing of locally produced agricultural products?

Existing policy at these intersections can be a resource toward legislating food system change, as it may be easier to add a clause to an existing law than to draft entirely new legislation. And finally, consider who is responsible for these issues in the community. Contact policymakers — whether school board members, Public Health Department, City Council President or State Representatives — ahead of time. Tell them about the community food assessment and some of the issues you plan to address. Building these relationships with decision-makers puts the issues on their radar and creates space to incorporate their input.
Resulting Policy Recommendations
 Leveraging ideas and data to make recommendations on policy change can be one of the most important results of a community food assessment. In many cases, resulting recommendations include the creation of the Food Policy Council to coordinate and oversee changes in all aspects of the food system. Once you are developing an action plan and next steps, consider including a few short-term initiatives to gain tangible results and keep people involved. Specific examples of community food assessment policy recommendations can include:
  • EBT access at farmers markets and expansion of Farmer’ Market Nutrition Programs (see Farmers Market Policy & Advocacy for more).
  • Changes in local or state purchasing guidelines that facilitate institutional purchasing of local food (see Farm to Cafeteria section for more).
  • creation of – or changes in – the zoning laws to support new farmers markets, community gardens, supermarkets and other sources for local, fresh food.


Updated 6/2013