Training the Trainers in Community-based Food Systems: a project-oriented case study team approach

Final Report for ES09-095

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $99,266.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Nancy Creamer
North Carolina State University
Expand All

Project Information


This two-year project utilized a train-the-trainer model to build the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service’s capacity to develop and initiate the growth of community-based food systems. Twelve county-based teams of extension personnel and community partners were trained in the conceptual framework of community-based food systems and project development and realization. Teams received planning assistance and ongoing support during the project. Resources created through this project include county project case studies, web-based community-based food systems training documents, webinars developed and recorded during this project, and a summary of project lessons learned. All resources are available to the public from the CEFS website.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of the training project are listed below.

1. Food Systems Education: for and with extension

Through the trainings and presentation of case-studies by the Project Team (PT), county-based trainees will understand the comprehensive nature of food systems. Further, they will be able to easily explain these concepts and needs to those unfamiliar with “food systems” on both day-to-day practical terms and in relation to basic governmental policy. They will thus become educators and advocates for food systems awareness and engagement in their communities.

The trained county teams in year one (CBT1) will be comfortable serving as trainers and support for the adjacent 2nd year counties (CBT2), Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, and future emerging county-based teams. They will know the resources available (written and people), grant opportunities, partnership possibilities, barriers, and opportunities.

Through a targeted informational session and dialogue with extension administrators at both NCSU and N.C. A&T SU, they will demonstrate support of new comprehensive food systems programming throughout the extension system as supported by the new strategic plan.

2. Food Systems Project Development: hands-on learning

CBT1 trainees will successfully design, implement, and evaluate a community-based food systems project in their county. The county-based teams will understand what makes a successful project, and how to develop a needs-centered/asset-based team approach, where the needs of a specific community are overlaid with the area’s available resources to determine and develop a project that will have substantial positive impact and high success. The county-based teams will learn community building techniques so that they develop new leaders in addition to the new project. These teams will also learn formative evaluation strategies to help them assess and continually improve their project as it proceeds. County-based teams will thus lead the development of effective and sustainable projects that improve their local community’s food system through sustainable agriculture as well as build new leadership and community cohesion.

3. Collaborative Training System: “passing on the gift”

County-based teams will “pass on the gift,” by training and mentoring a subsequent team in N.C., ideally from an adjacent county. While the Project Team will still provide consulting expertise and assistance as needed, the newly trained county-based project leaders will take responsibility for generalized reciprocity, “paying forward” the training they have received by assisting in the development of a food systems project with another community group and teaching that group the same “pass it on” skills. This strategy will provide the support necessary to grow a statewide community based food system that is truly collaborative, community-based and community-driven. This design will also strengthen the long-term networking between groups, which in turn maximizes impact through facilitating shared resources and strategic replication. County-based teams will thus engage in cooperative and collaborative community-building strategies.


A community food system is one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated to enhance the economic, environmental, social, and nutritional health of a particular place (Feenstra, 2006). Locally supported, diverse, and sustainable enterprises can improve the ecological environment and also enhance the quality of life in local communities by positively impacting economic and social capital.

A shift towards a more local and sustainable food economy has many important benefits, including economic development, job creation within farming and food sectors, preservation of open space, decreased use of fossil fuels and associated carbon emissions, enhanced consumer access to fresh foods, improved nutrition, and improved food security for all North Carolinians (Curtis and Creamer, 2008). Our current food system relies extensively on foods imported into the state while at the same time N.C. loses as many as 1,000 farmers per year.

Currently in North Carolina, as is the case in many Southern states, many different organizations operate a variety of food systems projects across the state. This shotgun approach has had many wonderful successes, but lacks the synergy of a coordinated effort that could more quickly create systemic change. Broad-based, coordinated efforts by complementary, trained, multi-partnership teams could prove essential to the ultimate success of developing local food systems. For example, coordinating a beginning farmers program while developing new local marketing opportunities while providing value added business support to associated businesses while educating the consumers while increasing access across all socioeconomic levels will have the most impact when conducted simultaneously.

Each year, North Carolinians spend $35 billion on food, both dining in and out (USDA 2008). Very little of this is spent on foods grown, raised, or processed locally. As one of the most diverse agricultural states in the nation, producing as many as 80 different commodities, including vegetables, fruits, fiber, grains, meat, poultry and dairy, N.C. farmers produce enough of certain crops to supply a significant percentage of what state residents consume. For example, in the case of apples, N.C. farmers grow enough apples to supply 42 percent of fresh apple consumption in the state (Armentrout et al, 2008). Yet consumers are more likely to find a Washington apple in the neighborhood grocery store than one grown locally.

If each person in North Carolina spent just 10% of their annual food dollars on local food (1.10 per day), it would create $3.5 billion in revenue for North Carolina farmers and related businesses. Money spent on local food has a multiplier-effect, circulating in the local economy rather than leaving the state. An analysis of the economic development potential for local food economies in the central Puget Sound area outside of Seattle found that while agricultural exports generate about $1.70 in community income for every dollar of sales, over $2.80 is returned to the state for every $1.00 spent at a local farmers market (Sonntag, 2008).

A sustainable local food economy can play a role in preserving farmers and farmland. Over the past 30 years, North Carolina has lost more than half of its farmers and is now tied for first in the nation in the loss of farms (NCDA&CS, 2007). Losing farmers and farmland has meant a decline in the infrastructure to process, distribute, and market diverse products within the state. Similarly, we see a decline in the vibrancy of our rural communities and our agricultural heritage.

Public health professionals are also starting to see local food systems as part of the solution to the health challenges, including obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, that often result from a socioeconomic environment replete with cheap and low nutrient foods. North Carolina ranks 17th among the states in terms of adult obesity and is 5th highest in youth obesity (Segal 2008). Although there is limited research in this area thus far, some evidence suggests that children exposed to locally grown foods are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables (Gustafson et al., 2007). Farm to School programs as well as school garden and farmer connections offer the opportunity for children and families to grow, prepare, and taste a variety of healthy foods they may not otherwise encounter, increasing interest in agriculture and healthier diets.

Policies are needed to remove barriers and facilitate support for these types of programs (Ammerman, et al., 2006). By focusing on the creation of more localized food systems in which N.C. farmers grow a greater percentage of our food and N.C. businesses process, distribute, and sell it, we have the potential to reverse these disturbing trends and revitalize the food and agricultural sector across the state. Both agricultural and consumer science extension agents are in a position to partner with a variety of other professionals to build and integrate programs that link the multiple facets of local food systems.

Ammerman, A.S., D. Cavallo, M.M. Leung, and A. Gustafson. 2006. “Farm, Food, Health: How Public Policy Affects Childhood Nutrition”. Harvard Health Policy Review, 7(2):152-165.

Armentrout, J., A. Kennedy, J. Curtis, N. Creamer. 2008. “N.C. Food System Assessment. Focusing on: Red Meat, Poultry, Fresh Fruit and Vegetables.” Food Logiq.

Curtis J. and N. Creamer. 2008. “From Farm-to-Fork: Building a Sustainable Food Economy in North Carolina.” N.C. Chapter of American Planning Association Newsletter, November.

Feenstra, Gail. 2006. What is a Sustainable Community Food System U.C. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Davis, CA: University of California at Davis.

Gustafson A., D. Cavallo, A. Paxton. 2007. Linking Homegrown and Locally Produced Fruits and Vegetables to Improving Access and Intake in Communities through Policy and Environmental Change. J Am Diet Assoc, 107(4):584-5.

Levi, Jeffrey, Serena Vinter, Liz Richardson, Rebecca St. Laurent, Laura Segal. 2008. F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America. Trust for America's Health Reports. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture. 2007. “North Carolina Leads Nation in Loss of Farms . again: State Lost 1,000 Farms in 2005, USDA Report Says.”

Sonntag, Viki. 2008. Why Local Linkages Matter: Findings from the Local Food Economy Study. Seattle, WA: Sustainable Seattle, April.

USDA, Agriculture Marketing Service. 2008. Per Capita Food Consumption for North Carolina.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Mary Lou Addor
  • Debbie Bost
  • Freda Butner
  • Rudi Colleredo-Mansfeld
  • Jennifer Curtis
  • Dr. Rebecca Dunning
  • Santos Flores
  • Natalie Hampton
  • Claire Herman
  • Dr. Leslie Hossfeld
  • Sandi Kronick
  • Joanna Lelekacs
  • Roxanne Leopper
  • Brooke Love
  • Warren Miller
  • Jean Mills
  • John O'Sullivan
  • Kavanah Ramsier
  • Christy Shi
  • Tes Thraves
  • Teisha Wymore

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Train the trainers


The PDP was based on a train-the trainer model, with an initial group of six Phase I county-based teams, comprised of community partners and led by a county Extension agent, trained in 2010, and a second group of six Phase II teams in 2011.

Phase I county-based teams (CBT1) were selected by CEFS staff using an RFP process. Phase II county-based teams (CBT2) were chosen by the Phase I teams. For Phase II, one county was selected based on an RFP process; in two cases CBT1 leaders chose CBT2 partners with whom they were already working on similar local foods projects; in one case the choice was facilitated by CEFS between previously unconnected counties; in one case the partnership was between extension personnel who previously had frequent contact but no joint projects; and in one case the partnership was between extension personnel who have frequent contact but had not worked on a local foods project together.

CEFS provided informational resources, organizational support, and funding to each team. Informational resources took the form of an initial two-day training for CBT1 Extension project leaders and partners in the first months of the project; resources on existing local foods activities summarized and web-linked on the CEFS website; presentations on goal-setting and community engagement (both in-person meetings with CEFS staff and a community-engagement contractor, and in a webinar held on these topics); a peer to peer webinar with N.C. and California extension agents presenting on their experiences / lessons learned with community-based food system projects; and support for some CBT1 and CBT2 partners to attend and present at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference in early 2011.

Organizational support and facilitation was provided via scheduled conference calls during the year during which partners gave updates on their projects, and in the form of requirements that teams provide initial project logic models and information on actual project outcomes. Each team also received $1000 for project development and each CBT1 received $500 to be used for training activities for their CBT2 partners. These project development and training matching funds were provided through W.C. Kellogg mini-grants and a grant from the Alces Foundation.

The initial outline of the SARE PDP project envisioned that CBT1 would both mentor and provide training activities to CBT2. In three of the six counties, formal training activities took place. The activities were as follows: site visits to evaluate a community garden location; goal-setting workshops; a farmers’ market tour; a food safety training; a GAP training; a meeting with NCSU tourism faculty; meetings with farmers to plan a farm tour; and meetings with farmers to clarify farmers’ market rules.

All CBT1 and CBT2 leaders reported that most of the ongoing contact took the form of sharing information between the lead agents on an informal basis. CBT2 agents then shared this information with their teams.

Outreach and Publications

  • Website: Planning for publication submittal to the Journal of Extension or Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development in 2012.
Education and Outreach Programs/Documents:
  • Feb 25-26, 2010 - Community Based Food Systems: Extension-led training and project development – 2-day training workshop. Raleigh, N.C. January 22, 2011 - Community-Extension Partnerships to Build Collaborations and Capacity for Community Food Projects. Presentation by Project Team and Community Project Leaders at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Annual Meeting, Chattanooga, TN. March 18, 2011 - Communication and Community Team Building for Local Food Systems. Elluminate Webinar. May 20, 2011 - Creative Approaches to Local Food Systems Projects by Extension for Extension and their Community Partners. Elluminate Webinar. Various dates, 2010 and 2011 - On-site Project Planning Consultation August 11, 2011 - SARE PDP Community-Based Food Systems Projects. Project report presented at N.C. A&T SU Cooperative Extension Program Faculty Staff Institute, ANR/CRD/FCS Breakout Session. Greensboro, N.C. November 22, 2011 - Literature review, prepared by Rebecca Dunning, PhD, titled ‘Summary of Key Points: Evidence-based Support for Local Food Systems, Proposed Research, and the Role of Extension.’ Review of evidence-based reports of economic and non-economic benefits of local foods.
Outcomes and impacts:

Overall, twelve (12) extension project leaders and their county partners were trained in local food systems project development. Approximately 75 partners from county and state government, local business, farms, and community organizations, were engaged in collaborations with Cooperative Extension. This is evidenced through the project profile case studies of the twelve new N.C. local foods system projects. Many of the organizational partnerships were newly developed through this project.

Specific training outcomes/impacts:

In February 2010, the Project Team facilitated a two-day training workshop with ten N.C. consultant presenters for the six CBT1 project leaders and their partners. The training was titled “Community-Based Food Systems: Extension-led Training and Project Development.” Evaluation from the two-day training showed that 100% of participants believed that they had gained information useful to their projects and 100% had confidence in their team's ability to create a successful project. Participants indicated that the most valuable aspect of the training was being exposed to the variety of different forms that a local food system project could take.

In January 2011, CBT1 shared their projects and lessons learned at a session of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Chattanooga, TN. The CBT1 participated in a panel discussion with conference attendees titled “Community-Extension Partnerships to Build Collaborations and Capacity for Community Food Projects.” This panel discussion served as a training and sharing opportunity for CBT1 as well as a training session for CBT2. Survey of session attendees (43 responses) revealed that over 95% were inspired by the session to think about their own food system projects.

In May 2011, CBT1, CBT2, and other N.C. extension agents were invited to participate in a webinar titled “Creative Approaches to Local Food Systems Projects by Extension for Extension and Their Community Partners.” Twenty-three participants attended the webinar that included eight participating speakers. The webinar was recorded and ten new participants have viewed the recorded webinar as of 1/10/12. A survey of participants (not including those viewing the recorded version) revealed 95% of respondents were likely to use the webinar information to develop local food system projects in their counties, and 100% indicated they received useful information on the means to engage partners in local food systems projects.

Twelve new N.C. local food systems projects were designed and implemented as part of the hands-on learning objective of this PDP project. Additional outcomes and impacts reported by the six CBT1 and six CBT2 teams through team project logic models and project profile case studies included reports of youth engaged weekly; new volunteers; attendance at events; participants impacted by programming and outreach; local food access increase to underserved and Title I schools; increase in farm CSA clients; increase in farmers’ market attendance; attendance at farm tours; and new community and school gardens.

The “passing on the gift” objective was evaluated through an interview process by an outside evaluator. See end of the Accomplishments section for a summary document.

It is anticipated that the twelve projects developed through this grant will continue to progress successfully and, if surveyed, would continue to report additional outcomes and impacts as noted above.

See county project case studies and lessons learned at

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Twelve new N.C. local food systems projects were designed and implemented as part of the hands-on learning objective of the project. See Outcomes and Impacts section.

A post-project evaluation was conducted to provide insight into team leader perceptions of the effectiveness of the train-the-trainer model in diffusing local food knowledge and activities in North Carolina. This outside evaluation was presented as a report summarizing interviews with each of the CBT1 project leaders and 5 of the 6 CBT2 project leaders. The report is included as an attachment/appendix to this report and includes notations of potential limitations to the methodology. Excerpts from the evaluation report are summarized below.

As envisioned, the PDP served as a catalyst for the creation of local foods projects. Summary project plans and profile case studies evidence 12 new or expanded community-based food systems projects in 11 counties across North Carolina that were supported and have been influenced by the training support provided through this grant. Of the 12 projects, five focused on revitalizing existing or creating new farmers’ markets; four projects provided support for existing or created new school or community gardens; one focused on creating a new farm tour; one focused on creating presentation materials to highlight the benefits of local food systems; and one project focused on working with existing community organizations to support local food events, such as community meetings and meals.

Additionally, according to the participating project leaders, this SARE PDP was a very effective means to build community support for local food systems and to spark new county partnerships around the issue of local foods. It also served to leverage financial and intellectual support from these new partners.

Some responses from extension participants when asked ‘did this particular partnership work any differently than other projects that you’ve been involved in, with regard to community partners,” included:

“Having the non-traditional partners (from tourism, the hospital, a chef) was the biggest thing, and now those folks are really good partners, and they likely didn’t have a clue as to what we (extension agents) did before this project. This is an audience we don’t usually reach; it is not part of our traditional audience.”

“This has been very different. We’ve worked with lots of different partners… This has really brought the community together.”

Additionally, participating project leaders believed their involvement in the project led to significant successes in building local foods initiatives in their counties:

“Participating in the (train-the-trainer) process was beneficial, making us aware of resources across the state and getting us to focus on local foods as a central part of our work here. And that has happened. It was on our radar screen, but having this as a project and being accountable for it makes it a higher priority…. This project has helped us focus on local foods as a core program.”

“The PDP was an incentive for us to begin thinking creatively about how to start the conversation — no real plans had been there, the ideas had just been floating around in people’s heads. [The PDP] gave us an incentive to get some action started.”


Potential Contributions

The Train-the-Trainer Evaluation provides evidence of the potential future impact of the projects. Participating extension project leaders are most enthusiastic about the new community partnerships that formed around local foods through this PDP and how this can continue to bear fruit in the form of new projects and new sources of funding in the future:

“(Going forward) we will be able to build with new partners, like Farm Bureau. When you have partners you’ll be able to reach more individuals and they’ll advocate for you.”

“This has accelerated our growth and development astronomically; we’ve made three years of progress in one year. We’ve already applied for a couple of small grants, and we have developed small but meaningful projects.”

Most participating extension agents / directors are enthusiastic about the prospect of sharing the information learned through their involvement in their local foods projects beyond the reaches of this project and with some coordination assistance at the state level.

Future Recommendations

Interviews with the CES leaders indicate that the SARE PDP grant provided significant support for the development of local foods initiatives in North Carolina. To build upon the current network and knowledge of these Extension trainers our recommendations for future outreach and education programming include:

  • Organization of an annual or biannual event during which CES local food coordinators could meet and network. These meetings could be the brainstorming grounds from which new projects arise. Rather than a state-wide meeting, the meetings might be organized in conjunction with district conferences, or regional or national conferences, including SSAWG. Organize and facilitate webinars on specific local food systems topics; work through CES local food coordinators to solicit topics; and have agents serve as guest speakers on the webinars. Maintain a list of N.C. Extension local foods initiatives on the CEFS website. Involve the CES project leaders from all participant counties in future CEFS local foods initiatives.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.