Building Capacity for Local Foods Infrastructure Development

Final Report for LNC10-320

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $171,079.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Kathryn Draeger
University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
Greg Schweser
Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
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Project Information


This education/demonstration project built and sustained a three state collaboration of Extension, researchers, and advocates of local foods from Minnesota, North and South Dakota. This collaboration engaged three rural communities in Design Thinking workshops where information and feedback translated into content for the University of Minnesota Extension’s Community and Local Food Resources online toolkit. Farmers and community participants piloted this toolkit at a Learning Summit held during the 2013 Northern Plains Sustainable Agricultural Society meetings in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The completed toolkit will be used by Extension and community groups working to build capacity of their local food systems.


At the time of the submission of the initial project proposal in 2009, the local foods movement had a degree of edginess captured by an eager media. The New York Times alone published well over 300 articles between 2007 and 2009; Time magazine ran a 2007 cover story on the topic; a 2008 MacArthur Genius Award was given to Will Allen, one of the farmer visionaries of the Good Food Movement. The years in which this project has been implemented have been a fundamental formative period for what was once the nascent food movement.

As a result, over the course of this project some unanswered questions on local foods systems have been resolved. For example, in 2010 the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships hosted the Models and Methodologies symposium to address the question of whether local foods could feed local populations. Foodshed modeling in the Red River Valley and in the Western Lake Superior region has determined that, yes—with between 3% and 25% respectively of existing agricultural lands—those regions could produce enough food (produce, meat, grains, eggs, dairy, oils) to feed the population a healthy diet (Stark, Abasz, and Syring, 2010; Superior Foodweb, 2011). From that point, we moved ahead with this project knowing that local food systems represented a theoretically sound approach to community food resiliency.

We also felt it was important not to temper our work with overly-optimistic jingoism. We understood that amid the starts and stops frequently evident when community food systems develop, overly optimistic reports and news stories do not help communities when success cannot be validated. In our initial proposal (as can be seen in the following ‘context, background, and rationale’ section) we hastily cited the innovative policy achievements and economic development initiatives in Woodbury County, Iowa. We followed this up and produced an investigative case study where we learned of the shortcomings of these policies. This case study is presented in our Community and Local Food Resources website to teach people of the risks and lessons learned of those early local food trail blazers so that others will not make similar mistakes.

In retrospect, our original proposal (conceptualized in 2008, submitted in 2009 and started in 2011) demonstrated the strong sense of novelty and high mindedness of work that engages and supports communities to realize and build a locally-based food system. In our initial proposal we stated:

A new form of thinker has emerged –‘food philosophers’ – who have given rhetorical shape to the creativity and innovation in communities across the country. Whether stinging critiques of the industrial food system like Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) or Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) or culinary visionaries like Carlo Petrini (founder of the Slow Food movement) or concerned nutritionists like Marion Nestle, or activist gardeners like Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), these authors have galvanized widespread public action and debate around a redesign of our food system.

While early local food efforts felt to many to be elitist big city propositions, we focused our input at the rural community level where neighboring farmers worked in commodity agriculture and few had ever heard of or called themselves ‘food philosophers’. We did not consult the New York Times to determine how best to facilitate local food systems, we consulted with the people of Napoleon, North Dakota; Spearfish, South Dakota; and Bemidji, Minnesota.

The needs that we identified are rooted in the actual struggles of farmers and rural residents on the ground seeking to build local food systems, strengthen farm sustainably, and create access to healthy local foods for their communities. The primary investigator on this grant was the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships – an organization that is rooted in working to identify and harness community-based innovations to sustainable development issues. The rural community-based sentiment of those communities with which we worked is represented in this report and in the resulting toolkits, proposal, materials, and other efforts that are ongoing as a result of this grant. The Community and Local Food Resources toolkit was vetted and tested in the field with both community cohorts and farmer advisory committee members at the project summit in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Context, Background, and Rationale from Original Project Proposal
Nationally, there is a growing momentum of people interested in what is now commonly called the local foods movement (Pollen, 2008). The local foods movement emphasizes knowing where your food comes from, reducing the “food miles” from production to plate, considers the importance of a food culture, and encourages creating relationships between the farmers who grow local foods and consumers. The momentum of this movement is embraced by the Obama administration and by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who recently announced a new USDA initiative called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” In his remarks at the Freeman Lecture on Oct 5th 2009 at the University of Minnesota, Secretary Vilsack described this initiative in terms of regional food systems that can service both families and institutional purchasers like schools and hospitals. He also referred to the alignment of strengthening capacity at the regional level and common sense rural development investments.

Americans are interested in food – its gastronomic, agricultural, preservation, environmental, cultural, and economic aspects – like never before. This interest has coalesced as a cultural phenomenon – one which the Kellogg Foundation, as one of its angel investors, refers to as the “Good Food” movement (W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 2009). This movement has received significant media coverage – both in traditional print media and particularly online, through formal media outlets, and informal blogs and social networking applications, and a broad range of both commercial and informal blogs and print.

The New York Times alone has published well over 300 articles in the last two years on this subject. In 2007, Time magazine ran a cover story on the topic; a 2008 Macarthur Genius Award was given to Will Allen, one of the farmer visionaries and beacons of the Good Food Movement. A new form of thinker has emerged –‘food philosophers’ – who have given rhetorical shape to the creativity and innovation in communities across the country. Whether stinging critiques of the industrial food system like Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) or Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) or culinary visionaries like Carlo Petrini (founder of the Slow Food movement) or concerned nutritionists like Marion Nestle, or activist gardeners like Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), these authors have galvanized widespread public action and debate around a redesign of our food system.

Interest in where food comes from and who is growing it comes at a time when food insecurity and hunger exist alongside declining farmland for food production in the United States (Center for a Livable Future, 2009). According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 12.2% of all individuals were food insecure one or more times in 2007. Food insecurity occurs in either individuals or families when, “Access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.” Concurrent to food insecurity is the perplexing and intractable problem of overweight and obesity leading to almost 400,000 deaths per year and costing our health care system almost 93 billion in 2002 dollars (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009).

The United States Department of Agriculture drives food and nutrition programs and policies through the Dietary Guidelines and by recommending consumption of 5-9 servings/day of fruits and vegetables. Yet, domestically we do not raise enough fruits and vegetables to even meet these guidelines, nor do we import enough (because consumption is so low). Adding to the lack of available fruits and vegetables is the high cost of accessing these healthy foods. Food insecurity contributes to overweight or obesity due to the overabundance of inexpensive foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium (otherwise known as SFASS).

Living in rural areas today does not guarantee access to more farm fresh fruits and vegetables since the vast proportion of agriculture is for commodity crops and the lower populations levels often makes supporting a well stocked grocery store difficult. Rural areas span great distances where mainly agricultural crops are grown and shipped out for feed, fiber, and fuel. The economies of many rural areas, including Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, are colonial in nature, where much of their agricultural products are sent to other parts of the world and the food consumed by residents is shipped in from far away. This can result in food insecurity tied to factors such as the presence or absence of grocery stores that sell healthy foods.

Rural areas are especially prone to the loss of grocery stores and hence access to healthy foods. Kansas State University (K-State) through their Rural Grocery Store Initiative ( is seeking ways to stem the loss of more stores while building sustainable models for maintaining or founding grocery stores in towns under 2000 residents. Initiatives like K-State’s are important for rural towns who seek to maintain their independence, reduce poverty, and provide healthy opportunities for residents. The K-State’s Rural Grocery Store Initiative is confronting issues of food insecurity, sustainability, and health in rural areas through developing local community food system models.

Rural communities are increasingly committed to food self-sufficiency, requiring a shift in production from commodities to more diverse crop and animal systems. This civic interest is spurred by concerns about public health due to highly processed diets; interest in agricultural practices that contribute ecosystems services - like improved soil, air and water quality and wildlife habitat; and potential for ‘green’ economic benefits from relocalized agriculture. While rural communities want to strengthen regional food systems, many lack the knowledge to develop scale-appropriate infrastructure; nurture support of local and regional policymakers/agencies; and build a local foods culture in their community. This program is designed to fill this educational gap, so local citizens together can develop informed strategies for a sustainable, regional foodshed.

This excerpt from an article in Science speaks to the role our project and land grant universities can play in building community-based groups in addressing food security.

Innovation. Initiatives in which local communities effectively set the agenda, alongside science and technology developers, have emerged in the last decade. . . . It is not the technologies that are innovative here, but the pathway to their development, which involves continuous on-site cycles of learning and change.

The assessment’s message is clear: Innovation is more than invention. Success is not based on technological performance in isolation, but rather how technology builds knowledge, networks, and capacity. Simply put, plant breeding and natural resource management practices are very “blunt tools for social change;” innovation demands sophisticated integration with local partners (Kiers et al., 2008).

Some would say the land grant university’s mission is to catalyze civic engagement in the food system and that Extension and other agricultural educators should be at the forefront of restructuring community food systems. Colasanti, Wright, and Reau (2009) recently explored the role of Extension educators who engage in “catalytic” or “leaderful” work for food system revitalization.” Their work highlights the idea of “civic agriculture,” which provides new market opportunities for producers through enhancing social capital in the community where agriculture is embedded (Lyson, 2004).

Colasanti et al.’s (2009) reference to a leaderful framework to catalyze community change around food systems looks foremost to the idea of facilitation of a process in an unbiased minimally influential manner. Second, is a learner focus that emphasizes “co-discovery” where knowledge becomes the province of all involved, not just the experts. Third, is a team leadership focus that creates and implements strategic action plans. Fourth, is an issue or action focus with mutual respect around varying value systems (e.g., organic vs. conventional agriculture). This approach is non-prescriptive and values the process as actual content when working toward catalyzing change in the food system.

Andreatta, Rhyne, and Dery (2008) also build their work off of Lyson’s (2004) notion of civic agriculture in their exploration of advocating Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) for low-income and food insecure households. Their project was about “forging new relationships around food connections” (p. 143) through building a social network between the farmers, volunteers, low-income household, and other community members. Direct contact between farmers and consumers enhanced self-reliance in the low-income participants by building food literacy and forging community connections (e.g., social capital). Our current food system places substantial barriers between consumers and farmers and prevents people from accessing fresh, healthy, and affordable food.

One way to increase people’s knowledge and trust about food and then to also increase access to healthy foods is through thoughtful planning of local food systems to accommodate consumer and producer needs through food policy councils or similar civic groups. Communities have the capacity to use citizen-based advisory groups to bring ideas and best practices to the governmental level. Policymakers require information in order to make evidence-informed decisions, which a food council can easily facilitate through its role as information-gatherer and networker. Schiff (2008) states, “One potential role for food policy councils to fulfill is to raise the awareness of government as to policy, changes to policy, and implementation mechanisms that can enhance food systems sustainability” (p. 212).

Woodbury County, Iowa is an example of a county that drove successful change through policies that promoted local and organic foods in the community. A slowly dying community was brought back to life through a commitment to developing and implementing local foods policies. Woodbury County is now a model of economic vitality through their shift in focus to successful local agricultural endeavors. Growing food for local people became the focus. Buying food at all levels (e.g., individual and institutional) from local producers became the standard practice. This economic boom was accomplished through policy changes that commit resources to local producers who grow and process food for people who live in Woodbury County -- showing us that policy, social networking, and careful planning matters.

Our project will use the idea of civic agriculture and build social capital through social networks that stimulate innovations in order to revitalize the local food system in three rural North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota communities. We propose to use best practice tools to bring through a leaderful approach rather than a top-down approach. The project team will be available to facilitate the process through “non-influential” guidance, best-practice awareness, and structured time to plan community engagement projects around local foods.

Project Objectives:
  1. Establishment of collaborative partnership among ND, SD, MN local food advocates and researchers
    Establish community cohorts in each of the three states to pilot local foods innovations and infrastructure
    Cohorts participate in Learning Circles
    Convene all community cohorts for Learning Summit
    Create and disseminate innovative e-learning and online resources for community local foods


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Sue Balcom
  • Kathy Draeger
  • Patrick Garrity
  • Abby Gold
  • Linda Kingery
  • Greg Schweser


Materials and methods:

The initial project team--consisting of the key personnel representing researchers, Extension specialists, and local food advocates from each of the three states--met in a project kick-off meeting in Big Stone County, Minnesota to launch the project. This meeting represented the beginning of a three-state partnership bringing together geographically disparate local food interests that would, over the next two years, develop a working capacity to expand professional networks and abilities. Following this initial meeting, bi-weekly project meetings were held utilizing Google Hangout to plan the ongoing activities related to the project.

The project partners utilized the framework developed by the Center for Integrated Agricultural System’s Tiers of the Food System (2010) to identify three communities with which to work throughout the project. The goal behind this strategy was to identify communities that roughly represented the first three tiers (tier 0: personal production; tier 1: direct marketing; and tier 2: strategic partners in supply chain relationships) and that could potentially have the momentum to advance to higher tiers over time. By focusing on this tiered system, we theorized that the tools and resources created with this project could serve as a stepping stone for communities that built their capacity and advanced their local food systems from one tier to the next. Additionally, such an approach was intended to provide maximum utility for other rural communities realizing that each community is unique and has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, and exhibits a variety of capacities within their local and community food systems.

Another consideration in identifying potential participating communities was relative population size. We hoped to identify communities that represented a range of rural population from very small to somewhat large (while still considered rural).

A final consideration of potential communities was their perceived capacity and interest in local food systems. This consideration was made by each state’s respective representative serving on the project team. Communities chosen were: Napoleon, North Dakota (tier 0; small population); Spearfish, South Dakota (tier 1; medium population); and Bemidji, Minnesota (tier 2; larger population). Following the selection of these three communities, cohort participants were recruited from interested local food advocates, farmers, Extension educators, and members of the general public who expressed interest in the first community meeting.

In addition to the selection of the cohort communities, an advisory committee was recruited among farmers known in each state to be advocates of local food systems and who actively produced for local markets. These advisers were periodically consulted and gave input on the design and content of web tools developed for this project.

Following the selection of participating communities and the beginning of the cohort recruitment process, two community meetings in each community were scheduled. The purpose of the first meeting was to provide cohorts and interested people with information about the project in relation to the specific demographic and economic factors relevant to each community and to gather information about the current state of each community’s food system. Information gathered at these meetings enabled us to build a baseline community profile that would inform the planning for the second community meeting.

The second community meeting consisted of Design Thinking workshops. This process of Design Thinking has gained in popularity as a method to solve complex problems using the tools and techniques used by designers (architects, graphic designers, product designers, etc.). The process utilizes a human-centered focus that relies heavily on techniques like storytelling, drawing, and prototyping to address complicated problems and find creative solutions by using portions of the brain that are not often used in traditional problem solving techniques. The purpose of these workshops was twofold: first, to enable community members to work together to develop shared goals around community food system development and second, to identify existing activities, goals, and barriers to building local food systems that would direct the creation of the Community and Local Food Resource tools.

The Design Thinking workshops revealed the barriers, visions, and implementation ideas for creating strong local food systems in each community. Overall a summary of topic areas identified as important by the three community cohorts in the Design Thinking workshops included: introduction to local foods, local foods policies and regulations, marketing, selling to institutions, affordability, cooking and preparation, food hubs, production assistance, good agricultural practices, organizational capacity, and identifying organizations that support local food efforts. Using these topics as a guide, the project team identified several relevant resources, conducted interviews and created videos of those involved with local food systems that addressed community issues, created case studies, and developed online web resource tools. The resulting products have been assembled on the University of Minnesota Extension’s Community and Local Food Resources website.

During the creation and assembly of this toolkit, all of the project partners, community cohorts, and advisory committee members came together at a project summit held in Aberdeen, South Dakota in conjunction with the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society’s 2013 Winter Conference. This project summit enabled project participants to learn about each other’s experiences with building community food systems, enabled them to pilot out the web resources developed in association with this project, and provided vital input which led to further refinement of these tools. Finally, as conference attendees, each community cohort had the ability to network and learn from others working to develop sustainable agriculture throughout the Northern Plains region.

Research results and discussion:

The results and milestones are presented in the order of the above mentioned performance targets.

1. Collaborative partnerships among local foods advocates in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota
A project team member represented a local foods interest organization from each of the three states covered by the geographical scope of this project. Organizations included Buy Fresh Buy Local South Dakota, FARRMS (North Dakota), and the University of Minnesota Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership. Three additional team members included one representative of North Dakota State University Extension and two representatives from the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. This project team participated in bi-weekly web conference meetings via Google Hangout, held a project kick-off retreat in western Minnesota, and a project summit in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The group participated in at least one face-to-face meeting each year.

Project collaboration by this team increased the geographic realm of operational capacity of each organization, yielding access to Extension educators, networking opportunities, project ideas, and more across the three state area. This collaboration led to the potential to expand project ideas and projects across state boundaries. For example, fact sheets developed in Minnesota to assist local food producers identify rules and regulations have sparked discussions in South Dakota about the importance of clearly articulating regulations. This project collaboration also led to the submission of a substantial grant application to the USDA AFRI program which, although not awarded, expanded the discussion of rural food deserts in the three-state area and led to the hiring of community food system Extension educators in Minnesota to work on expanding food access. Networking and career development opportunities among partners have also been strengthened by increased participation in cross-state conferences including the South Dakota Local Foods conference and the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture conference where project partners from multiple states are able to network, share ideas, and learn from activities occurring across borders. Finally, the collaborative relationships established in this project will help ensure that the online tools available on the Community and Local Food Resources website will become disseminated throughout the three-state region through the widespread distribution of physical and word-of-mouth promotional materials.

2. Establish community cohorts to pilot local food innovation
Cohort groups of community members in Napoleon, North Dakota; Spearfish, South Dakota; and Bemidji, Minnesota were formed to participate in this process. These cohort members consisted of farmers, economic development agency employees, food retailers (restaurant owners, coop managers, etc), city planners, indigenous food activists, and others with interests in local foods. Each of these three cohorts participated in Design Thinking workshops and came together for a project summit to share their experiences and to pilot the Community and Local Food Resources website. During this pilot process, members of the cohort groups identified current local food projects on which they worked and utilized the web tools to devise plans to move forward with those projects using tools and resources available on the website. Following this exercise, cohort groups had the opportunity to comment on the utility and effectiveness of the online web tools to enable them to succeed at their endeavors. These critiques and comments led to changes and updates in the web tools both in the content provided and in redesigning the online interface to be more effective.

3. Cohorts participated in Design Thinking exercises
The original proposal suggested that cohorts would participate in learning circles in order to work on strengthening relationships and knowledge to build local food systems. Since the preparation of the initial project proposal, internal feedback from the Regional Sustainable Development Partnership’s programmatic use of learning circles had revealed that the process was often unpopular and ineffective. For that reason, the project team decided to replace the use of learning circles with Design Thinking workshops which focus on identifying actions and strategies to overcome barriers and meet project goals.

This process of Design Thinking has gained in popularity as a method to solve complex problems using the tools and techniques used by designers (architects, graphic designers, product designers, etc.). The process utilizes a human-centered focus that relies heavily on techniques like storytelling, drawing, and prototyping to address complicated problems and find creative solutions by using portions of the brain that are not often used in traditional problem solving techniques. In this project, Design Thinking offered a creative way to identify needs, goals, and solutions to underdeveloped community food systems.

The stories, thought exercises, drawings, and prototypes created in the Design Thinking exercises led to an understanding of the baseline set of local food needs, goals, and barriers in each community. This information was critical for developing the specific themes around which the Community and Local Food System website was built.

4. Project partners and participants convened in Learning Summit
In January, 2013 the project team hosted a project summit in conjunction with the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society’s winter conference. This summit brought together the project team, community cohorts, and advisory committee members in one room to network, share stories of community and local food system efforts, and pilot test the Community and Local Food Resources website. An evaluation of this meeting revealed that participants strongly valued the ability to try out the website as well as the ability to network with others across the three-state region and learn from each other through sharing stories and experiences. The collaborative three-state project team, community cohorts in each participating community, and farmer advisory committee members were all immensely important guides and advisors in the creation of the online Community and Local Food Resources toolkit.

5. Create and disseminate innovative e-learning and online resources for communities developing local food systems
The project team created the Community and Local Food Resources toolkit as a public website to serve as the go-to location for all of the resources, webtools, and learning materials compiled for this project. This website is located at the following URL: The resulting website themes, topics, content, and user interface all reflect the needs, interests, and feedback of all of those community partners who have participated throughout the duration of this project. All of the resources available respond to specific needs, projects, and goals of each of the three pilot communities. In addition, each resource has been thoroughly vetted to ensure that they all derive from reputable and respectable sources.

While only three piloting communities directly contributed to this project, we envision that the online resources will be useful and relevant to a broad number of rural communities throughout the North Central Region.

The project team plans to actively and aggressively promote the Community and Local Foods Resource website through listservs, organizational members, county, regional, and local Extension offices, local food and sustainable agriculture organizations, and at conferences and meetings. Project partners will host webinars and workshops at upcoming local food and sustainable agriculture conferences to spread awareness of the project and web tools to practitioners in local and community food systems.

As time passes, we expect that many of the resources will become out of date and new information and resources will become available. The University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships have a plan in place to solicit comments and identify and track new resources as they become available and to include those resources with the other web tools. We recognize that the continued utility of this product will rely on continually updating the available materials. Additionally, as these resources were created and compiled with the ongoing input of community participants, we will continue to rely on community input and suggestions to update the web tools as necessary.

Research conclusions:

This project utilized Colosanti et al’s (2009) framework to catalyze community change. Meeting facilitators were unbiased in their delivery to avoid advocacy that could turn off or skew participation among community members. Throughout Design Thinking workshops, facilitators worked to ‘co-discover’ with participants, often highlighting interesting points and stressing new information. While Design Thinking did not offer formal strategic action plans as a result, the exercise did focus on identifying strategic actions to overcome barriers and achieve goals. Finally, the toolkit constructed to assist communities build local food systems was intentionally formulated to minimize any advocacy, political, or inflammatory content that would offend conventional or industrial farmers—many of whom are relatives, neighbors, or community leaders of those community cohorts with whom we worked.

By working closely with community cohorts and farmer advisory committee members we were able to ensure that the Community and Local Food Resources toolkit reflects the specific needs of those on the ground doing this work in rural areas of the North Central Region. Topic areas addressed in these tools respond to specific project needs and concerns of people in those communities. All of those community participants who pilot tested the toolkit (n=21) felt that the tools would increase their ability to succeed at their local food work. As a result of bringing communities along throughout the process, we expect that the impact of these web tools will be greater as community stakeholders who can both use and promote these tools already exist, are already familiar with the tools, and can claim some ownership in the process by which they were developed.

The Design Thinking Workshops led to positive community impacts. Many participants identified ways in which their participation helped advance their local foods work. These workshops enabled people to gain awareness of local food issues; acquire more knowledge and understanding of the issues affecting their local food work; build networks and connections that led to increasing partnerships; and create community connections that otherwise would not have been made. While it is difficult to draw direct causal relationships, many community local food projects occurred after the Design Thinking Workshops that built upon momentum, relationships, and connections that developed in these meetings. Project participants identified Farm to School work, community advocacy around raw milk regulations, community gardens, partnerships with food banks, and community incubation kitchens as examples of community food system work they attributed back to Design Thinking Workshops.

During the project summit in Aberdeen, South Dakota, we engaged the project participants in a Ripple Effect Mapping exercise to determine what projects in each community participants attributed in some way to their participation in the Design Thinking workshops. Ripple Effect Mapping is a tool developed and used by Extension to evaluate programs by inviting participants to brainstorm about their projects in order to document their impacts and to re-invigorate the programs. Kollock et al. (2012) describe that the process of using mind mapping is based on the idea that the brain uses association from a central point and branches out as associations are linked. They state, “Ripple Effect Mapping . . . engages program and community stakeholders to retrospectively and visually map the ‘performance story’ resulting from a program or complex collaboration.”

While Napoleon, North Dakota still struggled with frustrations from rules, regulations and regulatory departmental apathy, they had increased local discussions and increased appreciation and awareness of local food issues.

In Spearfish, South Dakota increased awareness of local food and healthy concessions at sporting events were cited as ripples as well as increased local food available to students through a campus garden and a Native American garden. Also significant in Spearfish was a grassroots movement to support a local raw milk dairy initiative, as well as increased communication among producers and stronger farmers markets.

In Bemidji, Minnesota, self-reported ripples of the Design Thinking workshops were more pronounced. Farm to School advocates had worked on expanding Farm to School efforts to more schools, thereby delivering more local products in addition to expanding school gardens. Reservations had more gardens and also worked on issues like developing a solar heated high tunnel and preserving genetic integrity of wild rice. Farmers markets expanded EBT use; restaurants promoted themselves using local food as a selling point; local media covered local food issues like Farm to School and farmers markets. Politically, Bemidji participants were able to better inform their congressional delegates about the benefits of local foods. The City of Bemidji is writing a new comprehensive plan that includes a chapter on healthy eating and local foods.

Farmer Adoption

While the web tools available on the Community and Local Food Resources website are only recently available, a broad outreach campaign has yet to be undertaken. However such a push is pending. Among those participating in the process to develop web tools, twenty-six were farmers, some representing Extension and special interest organizations (Sustainable Farming Association, farmers markets). Many of these individuals have been spreading public awareness about this project and will continue vital networking to publicize the availability of these web tools to a broad range of constituents

In addition to the publicity from farmer participants in this project, the project team has developed promotional materials and a comprehensive dissemination plan to ensure that all interested parties in the three-state region and beyond have the opportunity to learn about and utilize the products developed from this project. The plan includes press releases, presentations and workshops at upcoming conferences, and webinars, as well as dissemination through the distribution of promotional materials to Extension offices and local food/sustainable agriculture organizations throughout the region.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:
  • Community and Local Food Resources web tools:
    Design Thinking Workshops for a Local and Sustainable Foods Future
    Woodbury County Case Study
    GROWN Locally Case Study
    Mentor Farmers Market Case Study
    Traverse City Food Innovation District Case Study

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

Design Thinking
As food systems--small and large--continue to change throughout time due to economic, environmental, social, climate, or other factors, the tools and resource needs of producers and supporters of local and community-based food systems will also change. Over the course of this project, change has come more quickly in some cohort regions than others. While the factors that speed up or slow down this change are unclear, the process of Design Thinking may be more effective in some communities than others. Ripple effect mapping results, for example, identified many positive changes that occurred in the local food systems of Bemidji, Minnesota and Spearfish, South Dakota after the initial Design Thinking workshops. Corroboration among individual interviews suggests that these positive changes arose from the relationships and network-building that resulted from the initial workshops. One year later in Napoleon, North Dakota, however, participants still struggled with issues of regulatory paralysis that inhibited their ability to reach their local food goals. Nevertheless, despite frustrations from rules, regulations and regulatory departmental apathy, they had increased local discussions and increased appreciation and awareness of local food issues. Additional analysis might examine some of the social and cultural conditions under which Design Thinking can be more effectively practiced in a community.

Coaching in conjunction with online toolkit
Utilizing the Community and Local Food Resources web tools in conjunction with directed coaching to implement projects could help increase community capacity to develop local food systems. Such coaching could take the form of a modified Community of Practice (CoP) that harnesses value chain partnerships (VCP) in local food systems. The Regional Partnerships, Extension, and/or non-profit partners in each state could offer intentional coaching, mentoring, and ongoing support services. This would be an action-oriented collaborative process that includes participants along the local food value chain—such as farmers, retailers, aggregators, purchasers, and support professionals—that are all interested in working together to develop their community food system. New resources discovered throughout this process would be added to the Community and Local Food Resources website.

Piloting selected community food system projects
The Regional Partnerships are considering initiating a pilot project in which selected communities would utilize the Community and Local Food Resources online toolkit in conjunction with directed coaching to implement local food capacity-building projects. To identify projects that are truly community-based and exhibit an existing degree of organization we would solicit project ideas through a request for proposals (RFP) process for locally relevant community food system projects. Upon selection, the identified communities could use Design Thinking methods to identify their most critical local food needs and, from there, build a CoP/VCP for specific goals (e.g. increasing economic viability of a farmers market) or to identify more general food system goals, barriers, and strategies. The following CoP facilitation would pilot a method of Extension delivery that would move Extension away from simply providing education toward becoming facilitators and co-conveners in local food system development. This is, as some argue, particularly suited to local food system work and a potential way for Extension to innovate and remain relevant in the modern information society (Raison, 2010).

Community Readiness
Chazdon and Lott (2010) have identified potential community indicators that may identify whether or not community groups may be successful in impacting change. The researchers examine ‘community readiness’ based on the levels of a variety of social networks or linkages that exist within the community which they categorize as bonding networks, bridging networks, linking networks, and leadership energy. Roughly described, these deal respectively with close-knit ties (family, friends), weak ties (among people of different professions, interests, etc.), vertical ties (links among institutions, power, and resources), and openness to new ideas and change (Chazdon and Lott, 2010). Incorporating this analysis into future projects may be a vital precedent when identifying subject communities that have the potential to enact a maximum degree of proposed project outcomes.

For maximum efficiency, teams applying to participate in this project should have diversity that includes a wide range of professionals (farmers, retailers, food service directors, etc.) as well as individuals tied with formal institutions (economic development directors, department of agriculture representatives, county commissioners, etc.) Teams should also include a number of participants with proven leadership capability, who will encourage group members to collaboratively learn from each other, find solutions, and implement their project over time. Such a broad network of community stakeholders would likely exemplify a degree of community readiness (Chazdon and Lott, 2010) that could result in increasing the capacity of local and community food systems within a given area. The Regional Partnerships have a history of working with communities to build community-University partnerships. Such a project would strengthen the ability of the Regional Partnerships, Extension, and community groups to act as partners to instigate change and build healthy, resilient community food systems.

Works Cited

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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.