Community Engagement

Why community engagement? Community food systems activities happen at the grassroots level. We can only hope to understand community food systems – and to work toward positive outcomes – by collaborating with activists, practitioners, and entrepreneurs in community-based food system activities. We work in collaboration with community organizations, grassroots initiatives, and businesses to:

1) identify needs and opportunities in the community food system,
2) develop programs to address a particular issue in the food system,
3) connect practitioners to each other,
4) identify and advocate for policies that strengthen our capacity to grow and distribute food in urban environments.

Our Community Engagement Projects are mini-projects that may take the form of consulting, advocacy, or small-scale applied research, and which are proposed by collaborating organizations or coalitions of organizations.

The objectives of  Community Engagement Projects are two-fold: 1) to improve our understanding of particular challenges or innovations emerging in the case study cities and 2) to deliver short-term results to community partners in case study cities by adding value to existing activities. CEPs allocate project staff time to specific mini-projects but do not include grant monies for partner organizations. 

A Research & Evaluation Collaboration with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council
The staff of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council has entered into a CEP with the CRFS project to: (1) collaborate on an evaluation protocol for their policy work in Los Angeles; (2) build the evaluation capacity of the LA FPC through the co-development and implementation of an evaluation plan; and (3) facilitate a CRFS research project on the motivation(s) behind the involvement in LAFPC by individual members.  For the first two items, CRFS project staff will help the LAFPC develop its evaluation goals and an accompanying process.  The interview process for the third activity is underway, and serves as a pilot for similar investigations with food policy councils in other AFRI cities.  A MOU describing the CEP was adopted by the LAFPC in October 2012, and the collaboration is expected to be completed during the first quarter of 2013.

South Side Milwaukee Healthy Food Access Coalition
CRFS project convened a focus group on food access, affordability, and quality with Latino residents of the South Side of Milwaukee. Subsequent meetings with community based health organizations working on obesity prevention resulted in the formation of an informal coalition addressing the intersection of food and health. The coalition joined forces with a 16th Street Community Health Center community based project called “Healthy Choices, Healthy Community.” Neighborhood leaders from this project had identified gaps in healthy food options, and hoped to influence store owners to carry more healthy items. The coalition worked with the Healthy Choices program on a grocery store campaign where store owners were asked to supply new items. The coalition helped organize three days of food demonstrations (on 3 Saturdays in November, 2012) to highlight the new products.

Development of a “Chicago Grown” LabelCRFS Project Co-Manager Greg Lawless is working with the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council (CFPAC) to develop a special label for Chicago Grown foods. CFPAC has announced a contest to develop a logo for this branding program, which will promote fresh foods grown in the city as well as “value added” products with 50% or more of their ingredients grown in the city. Other rules for participation and a marketing strategy are in development, with the goal of launching the logo at the opening of Chicago’s farmers markets in May 2013.

Healthy Corner Stores Initiative
The Healthy Corner Store Initiative is a project of the Lindsay Heights Neighborhood Health Alliance, and closely aligned with work of the Walnut Way Conservation Corporation. The initiative received a grant from the Medical College of Wisconsin to support store owners in bringing fresh produce into their stores. The CRFS project has joined the Initiative to provide background research support. Our research support will be addressing policy and distribution issues.

Lead in Urban Environments
We are working in Milwaukee with the Medical College of Wisconsin, 16th Street Clinic, and Walnut Way on a lead in backyard gardens project.  The CRFS Project is providing technical support on soil sampling, analysis, and interpretation.  A similar effort in collaboration with consultant Synergen is testing lead in several community gardens.  The immediate result will be information on contamination for gardeners.  The long-term goal is to provide preliminary data for a community-based research proposal to National Institute of Health.

Institute for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition (IUAN)
Lawless and Ventura represent University of Wisconsin Extension and University of Wisconsin-Madison respectively on an ad hoc committee organized by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to create a non-profit institute dedicated to research, education, and outreach about urban food systems.  The organizing committee has met regularly throughout summer and fall, though still does not have a clearly defined plan for the IUAN.  An open house to present the core concepts will be held with community partners on November 12.

Milwaukee Urban Economic Development Association (UEDA)
Project Co-Manager Lawless has been involved with UEDA to address the potential for food manufacturing and urban agriculture to create jobs in the city of Milwaukee.

Development of a Statewide Food Policy Council
The CRFS Project has been an active participant in the creation of a statewide food policy council.  This includes organizing and sponsoring a session and reception at the 2012 Wisconsin Local Food Summit, participating in an organizing convention in Wausau in July and the ensuing work groups, and writing a white paper providing suggestions about key choices in implementation process, roles and responsibilities, and council form and structure.

Carrots to Schools
In June 2011, Will Allen of Growing Power asked the CRFS Project to help him fill an order for 250,000 pounds of sliced carrots for Milwaukee Public Schools.  Allen grew some of the carrots on rural land provided by Sysco, the main distributor to MPS, and Sysco encouraged one of its suppliers, Maglio’s, to purchase carrot slicing equipment.  CRFS staff conducted wholesale price analysis, estimated necessary acreage, and reached out to organic and conventional farmers to help fill the order.  After the first season fell short of the goal, CRFS staff coordinated a meeting with all the players, and invited two seasoned conventional carrot growers and a university organic specialist to help determine steps toward improvement in 2012.  The CRFS Project will continue to assess and support the effort going forward.