Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

Food Systems Models

The Food System
Source: What is Sustainable Agriculture?, UC Davis Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program

The food system in the U.S. is large and complex, with many different stakeholders. While other models target one or two sectors or components of the food system, such as production or processing, this model takes a whole-system approach to food access problems. Food access issues are not normally limited to one section of the food system, and if only one part of the system is addressed, food access problems may persist. By including voices from all parts of the food system, this model addresses problems in a holistic manner.

Food Policy Councils

Food systems models include food policy councils, one of a variety of designators assigned to committees of community leaders and stakeholders that evaluate and address food system problems. Groups are commonly created by local, state, or federal governments, but they can also be established by non-governmental agencies. Partners vary in their background and knowledge of the food system, but most groups include leaders from agriculture, health, environment, and economic development sectors. Food policy councils' key objectives are to:

  • Evaluate local food systems
  • Provide collaborative solutions to system problems
  • Increase coordination of food system resources

Food policy groups mainly provide policy-based solutions to food system problems. For example, North Carolina passed the Healthy Corner Stores Act in 2010 after it was recommended by their statewide food policy group. However, food policy councils' actions are not limited to making policy recommendations. Food policy groups can build educational campaigns, lead fundraisers, and connect people with system resources. For example, the Kansas Food Policy Council connected rural citizens to SNAP resources by extending outreach in those areas.

Land Use Policies

Implementing policies that incentivize and encourage the use of public and private land for agricultural purposes can increase the amount of food grown locally and preserve an important economic factor in rural communities. Policies can be combined with other food access models to make implementation easier. For example, ordinances allowing public land to be used for community gardens can shorten the process of starting community gardens at a later date. Policies also communicate to the community that local food production and access to healthy foods are both local priorities. Policy examples include tax breaks for farmland owners, Right to Farm ordinances, and easements for agricultural conservation

Implementation Considerations

Some evidence suggests collective impact is an effective strategy in designing food policy councils. You Can't Rush the Process: Collective Impact Models of Food System Change, from the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems provides theory behind this method and highlights eight examples across the country. Rural communities have special considerations when it comes to using collective impact, such as expanding existing collaborations and leveraging existing resources, including staffing, technology, and funding.

This model requires strong relationships with community stakeholders and policymakers. Food policy groups are most successful when they build credibility among the community and maintain their trust. Comprehensive evaluations of food policies take time, and council members must be upfront about their commitment. Grants are available to help fund food policy group activities and assist with sustaining programs.

Resources to Learn More

Making Food Systems Part of Your Community Health Needs Assessment: Practical Guidance from the Tackling Hunger Project
Guide to help tax-exempt hospitals incorporate food system evaluation and planning in their Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs).
Organization(s): Public Health Institute, Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research Evaluation Network, CDC Foundation
Date: 4/2016

Drafting a Resolution to Create a Food Council
Guide for local governments on how to create a food policy council. This brief includes templates, tips for choosing council members, example resolutions, and more.
Organization(s): Public Health Law Center, Kansas Food Councils
Date: 9/2014

Municipal Strategies to Increase Food Access
Presents multiple strategies that municipalities and food system advocates can use to increase access to healthy foods.
Organization(s): Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, Massachusetts Municipal Association
Date: 2017

State of the Research: An Annotated Bibliography on Existing, Emerging, and Needed Research on Food Policy Groups
Annotated bibliography describing current and needed literature about food policy groups.
Author(s): Santo, R., Bassarab, K., & Palmer, A.
Organization(s): Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Date: 2017

Using Food Policy Councils to Address Rural Food Issues
Research brief about using food policy councils (FPCs) to address food access problems in rural areas. Various sections help define FPCs, identify challenges and opportunities, and highlight policy implications related to FPC use.
Author(s): Eicher, B., & Eicher-Miller, H.
Organization(s): Purdue Extension Center for Rural Development
Date: 4/2015

Good Laws, Good Food: Putting Food Policy to Work in the Navajo Nation
Policy toolkit that presents the food laws and policies that contribute to challenges with food security and access to healthy foods in the Navajo Nation.
Author(s): Downer, S., Balkus, O., Leib, E.B., & Blazek, K.
Organization(s): Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Community Outreach & Patient Empowerment, Navajo Nation
Date: 5/2015