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.