Recently I was giving an opportunity to speak to a group of community economic development educators and stakeholders at a conference in Dubuque, Iowa. I was part of a mobile bus tour along with UW and Iowa State Extension where we took a bus to Hook's Cheese (http://www.hookscheese.com/), Driftless Market (http://www.driftlessmarket.com/), Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen (http://innovationkitchen.org/), and Dubuque Rescue Mission Gardens. As we went on this tour to different places, we discussed how all of these are fitting into the community food system and how each of these are playing an important role for economic development and social issues. Maybe they are providing jobs for an area that needs them. Maybe they are now providing food access for lower income individuals. While each one of the businesses is focused on being successful and making a profit, they are also serving a larger purpose within the community food system.
When I use the term like a community food system, it has similar pieces to a local food system. It's focused on connecting growers and producers with consumers in the area. Local food though has no set definition and can vary greatly from county to county, individual to individual. A consumer might feel that local food is all the food that is grown in Illinois meaning that food traveling from southern IL all the way up here is still considered "local". The community food system however is smaller then local food system. I also tend to think that you have to be proactive to be a part of a local food system. I have to decide to spend money at a farmers market, to buy local meat, to purchase value added products. Whereas a community food system recognizes that based on you living in the community, you are a part of the system- whether you like it or not and your needs also need to be met. It's a different way to look at a food system but you can see that a community food system could easily be more focused on food security and access.
Community food systems also have set goals which include the following:
1. Access for all members of the community
2. Optimizing a diet for seasonal year round eating.
3. Maintaining a stable base of family farms
4. Recognize marketing channels that facilitate direct links with consumers
5. Agricultural and food policies that increase connections with consumers
(Source: Adapted from Edgar and Wright, 2013 "A Review of Definitions of Community Food Systems" UW)
When I look at the three counties that I serve, I see many assets that other areas do not have. This includes a strong base of family farmers, diversity of food channels to connect residents, and organizations focused on addressing food access and security. I also see areas we can work on of course. It is though a good place to start when it comes to examining our local food system.
Hopefully today you've gotten a great overview on Community Food Systems and how you can possibly look at the food system that you are a part of.