The Montgomery County Farm to Community Planning Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $9,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Ellen Stewart
Friends of the Farmers Market

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, focus group, networking, participatory research, study circle, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, market study
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, analysis of personal/family life, community services, social networks, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    The Montgomery County Farm to Community Planning Project will bring together diverse stakeholders to create a framework for addressing the challenges inherent in supporting a vibrant local community food system that is accessible to all. Montgomery County, Virginia has seen a blossoming of the local food economy over the past decade, with farmers markets, community gardens and CSA's becoming standard sources of food for many residents. But with almost a quarter of the population living below the poverty line, concerns have arisen that participation in the local food system by low-income consumers is still very limited. Little attention has been given to possible barriers to access, such as transportation issues and negative perceptions of cost. Friends of the Farmers Market (FFM) is a 501c3 non-profit organization that supports the work of the Blacksburg Farmers Market and strives to educate the community on the benefits of locally grown and sustainably produced food. FFM has worked on several initiatives designed to increase the participation of low-income consumers in the local food system, and to foster the community's capacity to find creative and sustainable solutions to the challenges inherent in making this happen. Through the Montgomery County Farm to Community Planning Project, FFM will be joined by a broad spectrum of community partners, including the Virginia Tech (VT) Department of Human Food, Nutrition and Exercise (HFNE), the VT Civic Agriculture and Food Systems minor (CAFS), social service agencies, hunger relief programs, and churches, to assess the current situation, identify barriers to participation, and work toward finding meaningful and sustainable solutions. A community food security assessment will be designed and administered, with a focus on a) the accessibility of local foods to low-income populations, b) the availability of local food at retail stores, schools and institutions, food pantries, and other locations where food is routinely obtained, and c) the potential benefits to local farmers of participation in initiatives that increase the community's capacity to meet these needs. An effort will be made to engage a broad and diverse sample of the affected population at every level of the assessment process. The resulting data will be used by Working Groups to inform the development of potential policy and project solutions, as they explore the next steps needed to support the development of a more accessible local food system. A Community Forum will bring together representatives from all stakeholder groups to learn about best practices in other communities, share survey results, receive recommendations from the Working Groups, and take first steps toward employing new initiatives. Project outcomes will ultimately enhance food security in the community and may include the formation of a Local Foods Council, farm to school/institution programs, and alternative food production and distribution programs. The inclusive involvement of representatives from all affected sub-groups (including low-income consumers and farmers) will increase the capacity of the community to make significant and sustainable changes that result in a more equitable and thriving local food system.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective #1
    To create opportunities for low-income residents to be engaged in significant and effective ways in the development of a more equitable, accessible and secure local food system. Ensure that low-income individuals, as well as community organizations who work inclusively with low-income populations, are key participants at all levels of project planning and development

    Objective #2
    To increase community understanding about the availability and accessibility of local farm-based foods to low-income residents of Montgomery County.
    Drawing from existing assessment materials (such as the USDA Food Security Assessment Toolkit, Cohen et al., 2002), develop survey tools and focus group guidelines that are targeted to increasing the knowledge base re: the consumption of locally –produced foods by low income residents. Conduct a comprehensive study of various subgroups within the low-income population, employing diverse and culturally-sensitive techniques to ensure optimum participation and accurate reporting. Use the survey and focus group results to create a report (including consumption rates, food security issues, barriers to access) that will be valuable to all stakeholders in determining community need and possible first-steps to developing viable and sustainable solutions.

    Objective #3
    To examine the present and potential capacity of the local food system to meet the needs of those not currently being adequately served, and engage farmer/producers in the development of new marketing relationships that increase their economic viability and extend their reach to low-income populations. Assess the potential economic benefits to local farmer/producers and identify supports which may be needed to assist growth in this area. Engage representatives from the local farming community at all levels of the project to ensure that identified needs and proposed solutions are informed by a good understanding of available resources and potential areas of capacity development.

    Objective #4
    To facilitate a new dialogue between all community stakeholders that seeks to develop creative solutions to food security challenges, focusing on local food resources. Coordinate one or more Working Groups that are charged with using survey results to generate recommendations for community actions to address identified barriers to local food access for low-income consumers. Plan and conduct a Community Forum to examine best practices in other communities with similar demographics, disseminate survey results and Working Group recommendations, and involve all participating stakeholder representatives in establishing a concrete plan to follow the identified recommendations toward sustainable solutions within the community.

    Approach and Methods
    Objective #1
    FFM will work with partner organizations to identify low-income consumers and related community groups who are interested in a) assisting with the planning and implementation of the community assessment, b) taking a role in the proposal of solutions (through Focus and Working Group participation), and c) participating in the dissemination of findings to the broader community. FFM has established relationships with several community partners that have expressed their commitment to join in the work of this project, including New River Valley Community Action, the VT Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (HNFE) and Civic Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) Minor, The YMCA at Virginia Tech, the Virginia Cooperative Extension SNAP-Ed and Family Nutrition Programs, The VT Sustainable Food Corps, Micah's Backpack, the Spiritual Roots Community Food Bank, the Giving Tree Food Bank and local churches. Other community organizations/groups who are actively involved in service delivery and/or anti-poverty issues will be invited at the onset of the project to take an active role. Using the PAR collaborative research strategy, careful attention will be placed on acknowledging and embracing the value of different perspectives and experiences. Through a process that is committed to shared leadership and decision-making responsibilities, new and lasting relationships will be forged between many sectors of the affected community and the organizations that work to address community needs. Proposed next steps will be fully informed and shaped by the committed involvement of those who stand to benefit most from their success.


    One or more planning groups will be established to perform the following tasks:
    • Perform a review of existing food security assessment tools, such as the USDA Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit
    • Use existing resources to help shape customized assessment tools that will create the best possible picture of a) consumption patterns and accessibility issues of local farm-based foods by low-income consumers, b) the availability of local foods at retail stores, schools and institutions, food pantries, and other locations where food is routinely obtained and c) the motivation and capacity of local farmers to increase their production to reach a wider consumer base
    • Develop strategies for conducting the assessment that ensure optimum participation from diverse sub-groups, including families, the elderly, immigrants, urban and rural dwellers, the homeless, etc.
    • Develop procedures and training for conducting assessments, as well as a scheduled timeline.
    • Develop and implement a promotional plan, using traditional and social media, to optimize public participation by informing and educating the public about the upcoming assessment

    The assessment will be conducted using two approaches: Surveys will be used to obtain responses from a broad spectrum of the affected community, providing consistent, valid, representative, and quantifiable data. Focus Groups will be used to obtain more personal, qualitative, experiential data from members of targeted sub-groups of the population. Combining these two approaches will help to create an assessment that has breadth in its reach as well as an openness to discourse and individual contribution.
    A period of four months will be spent in conducting the assessment. The support of all participating partner organizations will be enlisted in the collection of survey data from low-income consumers and farmers, and in the recruitment of representative individuals for participation in a minimum of 4 Focus Groups.
    Upon the completion of data collection, the next four months will be spent in the analysis and reporting of results, with the assistance of VT undergraduate and graduate students, and other interested community members, under the supervision of VT faculty advisors. Print and electronic versions of the assessment results will be disseminated with the assistance of project partners, and results will be shared with local media and government officials, and posted on the FFM website.

    Objective #3
    The survey team will work with recruited farmers who are willing to provide input thoughout the project. They will assist in creating a survey aimed at assessing the capacity of local farmers to meet the needs of a growing consumer base (resulting from new intiatives to engage low-income consumers), weigh the potential benefits to the farmers, and identify supports which may be needed to assist growth in this area. Distribution of the survey will be aided though partnerships with Virginia Cooperative Extension agents, the New River Valley Livability Initiative, and the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project. Concurrently, FFM will survey local food outlets, including retail stores, institutions, food pantries, and other locations where food is routinely obtained, to determine the availability and affordability of locally-produced foods.
    Project leaders will work to engage representatives from the local farming community at all levels of the project, including participation in Working Groups and the Community Forum, to ensure that identified needs and proposed solutions are informed by a good understanding of available resources and potential areas of capacity development.

    Objective #4
    The final phase of the project will bring together stakeholders to examine assessment results and propose achievable solutions that will increase access to locally-produced foods for low-income consumers. One or more Working Groups will be formed, with representation from a diverse section of the affected populations (including low-income residents and farmers), as well as representatives from participating organizations, institutions and community groups. The group(s) will meet once a month over a four-month period. They will be given the mandate to propose policy and/or project solutions that will best match the presenting needs with current or potential resources. To strengthen this process, a Community Forum will be held that will bring together members of the working group(s) with community stakeholders to examine best practices in other communities, and establish next steps for recommended initiatives. Recommendations from the working group(s) will be compiled into a final report that will be published and distributed to all project participants, local governments, the media and will be posted on the FFM website. This document will be used by FFM, their partners in this project and the broader community, to inform future individual and joint initiatives that address food security issues in Montgomery County.

    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.