- Education and Training: decision support system, display, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: marketing management, feasibility study
- Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, public policy, urban/rural integration, social capital, social networks
The consumption and desire for local food products has increased in recent years, with more consumers preferring to know where their food comes from and who produced it. Locally sourced food is also seen by some as a way for communities to provide residents with healthy food, enhance local business, and conserve the environment. Each community presents unique opportunities and challenges to achieving these outcomes though. The following project was undertaken to better understand the factors that help or hold a community food system back from developing. The findings of the research project were used to develop resources for food system advocates, to help them assess and plan the future of their community’s food system.
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The project consisted of three components: 1) a review and analysis of past research, 2) a survey and case study analysis of six community food systems, and 3) development of a geographic information system to understand the nature of the context and factors that promote or discourage the ultimate sustainability of a community food system.
The findings of the research project were used to develop resources for food system advocates, to help them assess and plan the future of their community’s food system. The Community Food System Explorer (CFSE) is the home for these resources and can be found online at www.cfse.ext.vt.edu. The CFSE is composed of four sections: About the CFSE, Explore!, Maps, and Resources. A summary of the six case studies, and lessons learned regarding the types of investments communities are making to help support their food systems can be found on the site, as well as map layers that can be viewed individually, or combined to explore local food system conditions. For example, the location of farmers’ markets can be viewed in combination with information about low-income people, to better understand food access and affordability issues. Viewing food system information in a map format provides new insights about the existing conditions and possible improvements for a food system. The CFSE maps are printable, to help communicate complex information about markets for sustainable agriculture to business owners, and decision-makers.