Community Food Security: continuing the conversation

Community food security can be a challenging concept.  The most common definition comes from Mike Hamm and Anne Bellows: “a situation in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet [in a manner] that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice” (Hamm & Bellows, 2003, p. 37).  It’s a good definition, but what does it look like on the ground, in our organizations, and in our communities?  Where does household food security fit in?  And how do we impact (and measure) community food security?

These are questions that the AFP and community partners have been struggling with as we try to identify leverage points for action.  Where do we put our energy if we want to build a more resilient, just food system that benefits all residents of a community, not just a small subset?

We’ve been using the Whole Measures for Community Food Systems as a framework for understanding and conceptualizing community food security, within the specific context of our tri-state region.  Using the Whole Measures, the AFP and community partners identified some compelling components of community food security that made sense to us, here and now.  According to participants, community food security involves:

  • Ensuring that healthy food is accessible and available to all community members
  • Empowering local communities to determine where and how to focus work for food system change
  • Cultivating sustainable agriculture
  • Balancing food security and farm security
  • Engaging youth and young people
  • Fostering a healthier community
  • Working for justice and equity

But this is just the first step.  West Virginia, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina are all working to develop assessments to measure different aspects of community food security so that we can identify possible places for action and change.  And the current RFA for enhancement grants are also an effort to support real action on the ground that might support and improve community food security in the region.

We are also sponsoring several upcoming webinars that should serve to deepen our conversation and help us to better understand what community food security might look like here in Appalachia.  On Thursday, March 20th, Jeanette Abi-Nader (formerly of the Community Food Security Coalition) will be presenting on the Whole Measures for Community Food Systems, and discussing how the toolkit might be used to plan and evaluate for community food security.  Then, on April 17th, Michelle Kaiser from Ohio State will present on her own community food security research.  She has identified factors that put a community at risk for food insecurity, as well as factors that create resiliency and support a community’s ability to feed its residents.

I hope that you will join us for both of these conversations, to help deepen our collective understanding of what community food security means in this place.  Better yet, I hope this dialogue will help us all figure out how to create a future “in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet [in a manner] that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.

Information on the upcoming webinars:

Jeanette Abi-Nader: Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Michelle Kaiser: Thursday, April 17th, 2014
12:00 pm Eastern Time

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Hamm, M. W., Bellows, A. C. (2003). Community food security and nutrition educators. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 35(1), 37-43.