Building capacity of agricultural educators to grow sustainable food systems in Iowa

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $74,742.00
Projected End Date: 04/02/2019
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Craig Chase
Iowa State University

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, mentoring, networking, technical assistance
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, community services, leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, social capital, social networks, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    This project aims to build the capacity of local food coordinators and other agricultural educators working for the development of local food systems. The target audience includes Iowa State University Extension and Outreach staff and employees of other entities (RC&D, city planners, community groups, etc.). Professional development opportunities for these food system practitioners will help build a sustainable and effective local food system. Research shows that strong local food systems support profitability for farmers, strong environmental practices, and high quality of life for farmers and their communities. The project will support (1) a mentorship program pairing experienced local food coordinators with beginning coordinators, (2) peer learning groups calls: a series of monthly video ­chats that would each focus on a different topic identified by practitioners, and (3) individualized face to face technical consultations for regional food system working group sites. A committee of three local food farmers, three local food coordinators, the project evaluator and a national expert in food system development will advise the project.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    Educational products: • Local Food Coordinator Toolkit used by all local food coordinators and supervisors, as well as regions and groups looking to hire local food coordinators or similar positions. The toolkit will be available on the Local Foods Team website and regularly updated. • Local food mentorship guide (including sample contracts, resources, etc.) • Local food peer learning group guide (including information about its structure, how to organize one, potential experts/speakers, evaluation forms, etc.) These publications and web ­resources will be shared in Iowa via the RFSWG listserv 254 members, Iowa State University county listserv and webinar platform. The resources will be shared with other states via the eXtension website, Community Food Systems listserv and the North American Food System Network (NAFSN) of which the Local Foods Team is a part of.

    Educational activities: • A total of 12 local food coordinators or supervisors receive up to two individualized technical assistance consultations. • Mentorship program piloted by 3 mentor/­mentee pairs, then implemented for 6 other mentor/­mentee pairs. • Peer learning calls: 10­15 local food practitioners pilot these learning calls for the first three months. Then 2­-3 cohorts of 10-­20 local food practitioners will participate in the peer learning groups.


    Short term outcomes: ­ Increased knowledge of participants in food systems topics. ­ Increased capacity among local foods practitioners. ­ Network of local food practitioners in Iowa grows. ­ New relationships develop among people participating in the local food network. ­ Extension educators develop new partnerships with food system stakeholders in their region. ­ Farmers are key advisors in food system development processes.

    Intermediate outcomes: ­ Participating agricultural educators incorporate food systems concepts into existing and new programs, thereby meeting client demand. For example: Extension educations offer TA related to local foods to farmers or County Youth Coordinators participate in Farm to School or school garden programs. ­ Farmers receive information, resources and technical assistance around local foods. ­ New collaborative work begins among network members. ­ Higher job retention among local food coordinators. ­ More local food coordinators are hired. ­ Local food practitioners leverage more funding to increase food system development outcomes.

    Long term outcomes: ­ Better coordination and increased support for local food system efforts in the North Central Region. ­ Increase effectiveness of local food programming. ­ Increased access to local foods. ­ Policy, systems, and environmental changes to support local food systems occur throughout the state of Iowa.

    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.