Moving the NC Local Food System Toward Sustainablility: A Comprehensive Graduate course in Local Food Systems for Cooperative Extension Agents, Specialists, and other Educators

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $79,063.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Joanna Massey Lelekacs
NC State Extension / CEFS

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: extension, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, marketing management, farm-to-institution, agricultural finance, market study, risk management
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, public policy, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures


    This three year project collaboration between North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Virginia Cooperative Extension, South Carolina Cooperative Extension, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) focused on designing, implementing, and evaluating a graduate course for Extension educators on local food systems. We also leveraged additional funding to transition the graduate course into a formalized, distance education, professional development certificate-series of five courses for a broader audience of service providers. The distance education certificate is currently in the final stages of development and is being piloted by 17 local food system professionals, including Extension Agents, local food council leaders, NGO and government agency staff focused on local food systems, and others.

    The graduate course, Local Food Systems for Extension Agents, was implemented from February through July 2015. Lectures and panel presentations were captured on video and have been organized, along with the syllabus, reading materials, and session agendas, into modules available for public viewing through the Extension Local Food web portal – Summative evaluation, including 6-month post-course evaluation of outcomes, was completed in January 2016.

    The overall goal of the graduate course was to increase the capacity of Extension educators to work with and educate growers, buyers, and community members in the development of high performing local food systems. The course successfully encouraged participants’ critical thinking about local food system development, shared solid research and successful community-based projects, and established connections to material and human resources. We trained and supported a network of Extension professionals who can now better 1) assist farmers and their communities in analyzing their existing community food systems, and 2) facilitating or leading collaborative processes in order to align existing assets with community strengths for local food system expansion.

    Project objectives:

    (1) Objective 1: Extension educators can knowledgeably explain the benefits and challenges of localized food systems to a variety of audiences, including farmers.

    (2) Objective 2: Extension educators can identify the structure and components of food systems and lead or facilitate a collaborative process of aligning these with agricultural and general community strengths for local food system expansion. 

    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.