Moving Regional Food Systems Toward Sustainability: An adaptive and interactive online course in local food system development for NC, SC, and VA Extension agents and other service providers

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $79,985.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: North Carolina State University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
J. Dara Bloom
NC State University

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: extension, networking, systems thinking
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, food hubs, leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, social capital, social networks, values-based supply chains


    This project represents a collaboration among NC Cooperative Extension (NCCE), NC A&T State University (NCA&T), Clemson University (CU), and Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). Local food represents one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture in the nation. In response, NCCE named local foods a flagship program in 2012, and both CU and VCE have held recent local food forums and statewide conferences to enhance value chain connections. Virginia Tech recently launched the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation to strengthen value chains, food system networks, and begin to address intractable systemic issues in the food system such as equity, fairness, and justice. 

    This project piloted, evaluated, and improved an online, local food systems (LFS) non-credit course series (adapted from a SARE-funded face-to-face LFS graduate course). In addition to enhancing the online course for North Carolina Extension and other stakeholders, we developed a regional course that includes materials and resources from all three states (NC, VA, SC). We also piloted a blended training program in VA and SC that used the online regional course as a base, and integrated site visits and participant dialogue to encourage face-to-face networking and collaboration.

    The project moved NC, SC, and VA towards more community-focused food systems by providing comprehensive training for existing and pre-service LFS practitioners. The primary objectives were to: 1) build the capacity of NC, SC, and VA training providers related to their ability to support local food system development, and 2) develop, evaluate and update the online training and alternative delivery model to serve as a regional model. 

    This project utilized interdisciplinary and systems approaches to LFS education, including information about environmental, societal, and economic impacts. The evaluation plan utilized quantitative and qualitative methods to collect, analyze, and determine knowledge and confidence attainment, and attitude and behavior changes. Online and blended programs were updated based on evaluation results for future delivery and regional expansion.

    Project objectives:

    The overall goal of this project was to build the capacity of NC, SC, and VA Extension educators and other professionals (including non-profits, other state agencies, and private sector employees working on LFS development) to work with and educate growers, processors, distributors, buyers, and community members in the development and facilitation of high performing local food systems.

    The following represent primary project objectives:

    Objective (1): Develop, deliver, expand, and improve the LFS training programs (online and blended programs) in order to create sustainable delivery models, serving as a template for other states to emulate.

    Objective (2): Use pilot evaluation data to confirm the effectiveness of this training for building participants’ capacity to support local food systems development.

    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.