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Community Readiness and Engagement

Although there are many factors that inform the success of food access initiatives, attention must be paid to how well-positioned a community is to implement a strategy. The health of the food environment is one method to determine readiness and it can be measured in several different ways:

  • A community food assessment collects information from community members on what they identify as assets to the local food environment as well as opportunities for improvement.
  • A health impact assessment can measure a policy, program or initiative's potential impact on a community's well-being.
  • Testing a community's readiness to address an identified need is another step that determines if the time is right to begin an initiative. The Community Readiness Assessment can inform what segments of the community are in the best position to move the work forward. The assessment measures infrastructure readiness as well as community members' recognition of and buy-in to the need. Community readiness falls along a spectrum, ranging from unawareness that an issue exists to putting resources into an existing program.

Assessments provide a picture of where a community sits and can inform the development of an appropriate, place-based strategy; local needs and ideas of how to address them come from a representative sample of community members. A group of interested, invested community members should be closely involved at every step of the initiative to ensure the community's voice is coming through.

With the changing demographics of rural America, specific populations' needs must be kept in mind. Working with cultural and social organizations that represent specific populations will ensure unique needs are addressed. Whenever possible, existing community assets should be strengthened and built upon rather than starting from scratch.

Resources to Learn More

Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit
Standardized community assessment tool designed to help community-based nonprofits and business groups, local government officials, private citizens, and community planners measure various community characteristics related to food security. Assessment tool is composed of six basic components: profile of community socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, profile of community food resources, assessment of household food security, assessment of food resource accessibility, assessment of food availability and affordability, and assessment of community food production resources. Includes instructions and templates to help users develop the necessary data collection tools.
Author(s): Cohen, B., Andrews, M., & Kantor, L.
Organization(s): USDA Economic Research Service
Date: 7/2002

Food Access Strategies in Rural Communities
One-hour webinar recording explaining how to create a rural food retail strategy. Includes a discussion about promising funding sources, and highlights a successful food access program in Appalachian Ohio through a conversation with its director.
Author(s): Wooten, H., Fry, C., Redfern, T., & Holaday, R.
Organization(s): ChangeLab Solutions
Date: 9/2014

Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool (2nd Ed)
Presents information on food security and food access as it relates to Indigenous communities. Exercises are designed to facilitate understanding of the data collection processes that are necessary for measuring and understanding Native food access, land use, and food policy issues.
Author(s): Bell-Sheeter, A., Romero, V., Segrest, V., & Foxworth, R.
Organization(s): First Nations Development Institute
Date: 2014

Minnesota Food Charter
Launched in 2013, the Minnesota Food Charter is intended to act as a roadmap and guide policymakers and community leaders as they work to improve access to affordable, safe, and healthy food. Final report details challenges and goals, along with promising strategies that can be used to improve both food access and the overall economy within the state.
Organization(s): Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MN, MN Department of Agriculture, MN Department of Health, University of MN Extension

Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Communities
Collection of resources that support policymaking and rural economic development planning, including technical assistance resources and a list of National Award for Smart Growth Achievement winners.
Organization(s): United State Environmental Protection Agency

What's Cooking in Your Food System: A Guide to Community Food Assessment
Guide that walks users through the process of assessing community food systems and identifying assets and opportunities. Supplements information provided in the Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit.
Author(s): Pothukuchi, K., Hugh, J., Burton, H., & Fisher, A.
Organization(s): Community Food Security Coalition
Date: 2002