What is a Food System Assessment?
A food system assessment is a research and community engagement tool to evaluate the opportunities and gaps that exist in a food system. A food assessment can range widely from a simple study of how much food and land it would take to feed a certain population, to an in-depth analysis that involves surveys, interviews, focus groups, listening groups, data analysis, and more. For Harrisonburg EATs, we are specifically looking at all components of our local food system (see graphic below) and how they relate to community health, hunger, and economic viability.
What is a Food System?
A food system includes all of the steps that it takes to get a food item from the farm to your plate.
- where a food item is grown (Shenandoah Valley or California),
- what practices are used on the farm (organic or conventional),
- how products are developed or processed,
- how the crops or products get to the market and how a family or individual travels to purchase products
- what resources or methods are used to make and prepare meals
- how the people who grow, raise, transport, and sell food products are paid and treated in their workplaces
- what happens to the waste or by-products of food or crops
- how accessible and affordable fresh, local, and organic foods are to the entire community
- do residents have access to land and markets to grow and sell the food that they grow
Our assessment will be looking at all of these aspects of the food system (and much more) to better understand what opportunities, successes, barriers, and limitations we have to creating a local food system in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
The following are the methods that we will be using to collect information for our report, engage community members, organizations and businesses to better understand local food access, and to invite them to the table to provide leadership as we create our assessment and action plan.
Surveys: The survey will ask a variety of questions to collect baseline data to better understand where residents shop, why they buy the food that they do, what barriers families face to obtaining fresh, local and culturally appropriate food, and interest in community gardening, urban agriculture, and food-based business entrepreneurship. We are offering the survey online in English, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. We are also working with local interpreters and visiting neighborhoods to collect surveys door-to-door. Once we have collected 350 surveys, the results will be analyzed based on the demographics of Harrisonburg including age, gender, race/ethnicity, and income to better understand how different demographic groups interact with our local food system. Take the survey now! It will only take 10-15 minutes and you can enter our raffle to win gift certificates to local businesses.
Interviews: We will be meeting with and interviewing community gardeners, farmers, grocery store owners, residents, restaurants, institutional food procurers, and others involved or wanting to be involved in our food system. By interviewing people from across our local food system, the story of our current food system can be told through those who live and work in it everyday!
Data Collection: Supplementing the survey and interviews with census, agricultural, health, and mapping data, the food system assessment will give us an in-depth perspective on where we are, and, hopefully, indicate where we should go next.
Listening Groups: This Fall, we will host a series of listening groups to discuss some of our findings from our data collection, survey, and interviews, hear more about the barriers and opportunities that you see, and begin to envision where we can go next.
Final Report: Once we have collect all the data and information from the surveys, interviews, and listening groups, we will create a comprehensive report with our findings and present it to the community and our local decision makers.