It is likely that you and your coalition could brainstorm dozens of questions you would like to address about your community. The hard but important early step is to focus your group on the 1-3 primary or overarching questions you really want or need to address first. What is it you want to answer with this assessment?
This section provides a series of case studies that demonstrate what overarching questions communities have asked and what their resulting processes looked like. These simply provide examples of how communities focused their efforts – no one ever answers every question they want to and this overview could never capture all possible questions, so here we provide some interesting, illustrative examples.
LiveWell Montezuma asked this question because they are working to create demand for local food and need to ensure that local producers have the capacity to meet an increased demand. As an agricultural community, production is especially important to the local food system. The Food Task Force, made up of school, government, agriculture, and health agencies, engaged in a food assessment to learn more about the food system from the producer’s perspective. The goal of the assessment is to identify producers that are interested, willing, and able to increase their supply to the community. The collected information will support additional efforts to help people access healthy and affordable food.
In developing the survey, the task force drew from other surveys, adapting them to meet the specific needs of Montezuma. During this development, two surveys emerged because understanding both the supply and demand for food was highlighted as a priority. To answer the main production question, a producer survey will be distributed to producers in the area in late fall after the farm season is over. The survey will inquire about general farm information, farming practices, sales and marketing, common barriers, and distribution.
The information gathered from the assessment will be compiled and made into a formal report with the help of an expert that will analyze the data and identify where gaps exist and how the community can strengthen what is already working. Ultimately, the task force will use the findings to create a comprehensive strategic plan for improving the food system in Montezuma and hopes to leverage the report to acquire grant funds to support these efforts.
LiveWell Longmont asked this question because the rates of daily fruit and vegetable consumption for Longmont residents are very low, and one of the main priorities within the community has been to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Through the assessment, the Community Food Assessment Subgroup was able to understand how to better support residents’ access to fruits and vegetables and to promote healthy eating.
The assessment subgroup, comprised of city and county staff, local organizations, food assistance groups, and a consultant, devoted the fall of 2009 to working with community members in focus groups and gathering existing reports and information about health, healthy eating, hunger, and the food system in Longmont. With this information, they identified key issues and decided which questions needed to be addressed in a broader community survey. The survey informed their original question by asking how price, accessibility, and other factors affect fruit and vegetable consumption.
Based on the results of the assessment, LiveWell Longmont and its various partners are pursuing several initiatives to improve fruit and vegetable consumption including:
- Identify unique neighborhood needs and interests for food distribution sites (e.g., develop a new produce stand or mobile produce vendor.)
- Educate city and community leaders on findings from the food assessment and request policy action as opportunities arise
- Share the assessment findings with the community and stakeholders to increase awareness
LiveWell Longmont Tools
The Community Food Assessment Focus Group Process facilitator guide was used to identify key issues to be explored in the assessment. It contains focus group questions regarding types of food participants eat, where food is accessed, and how decisions are made about the food that is eaten.
Access to Fruit & Vegetable Survey was distributed to community members to determine where respondents purchase fruits and vegetables, how respondents choose retailers and foods, and their attitudes toward local foods. Adherence to food safety measures was also assessed.
For a complete report of the LiveWell Longmont Food Assessment, click here.
LiveWell Chaffee County asked this question in order to understand which economic, physical, social and/or nutritional barriers are most significant in preventing access to healthy foods. As a rural community, a significant portion of the population does not have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. So, LiveWell Chaffee County received a grant in 2011 from the Colorado Health Foundation to complete the first phase of a food assessment focusing on understanding healthy food access for food insecure populations in the county. The priorities of the assessment were to engage low income populations, engage community partners most likely to advance relevant programs and policies, and understand barriers and opportunities for populations with poor access to and low consumption of healthy foods. The committee that conducted the assessment was made up of people from local youth support groups, school district representatives, city and government officials, and various local organizations.
Information gleaned from listening sessions and interviews with community members informed the development of a community wide survey, both in written and electronic forms. The survey was distributed through email lists, school mailings, newspaper print ads, and at community meetings. Then, the findings of the survey were discussed with a panel of engaged community members to determine the best plan of action moving forward.
The results of the food assessment identified financial constraint as the main factor preventing adequate access to healthy food. In response, the panel of community members recommended steps to be taken to maximize the impact of food assistance programs. Supporting the necessary cultural shift and awareness about community benefits of non-profit and federal food assistance programs will be done by:
- Bringing in new partners to build the case for economic development through maximizing participation in food assistance programs
- Developing partnerships with local and healthy food retailers to accept food assistance benefits and enhance community education and outreach
- Convene both food assistance providers as well as eligible recipients to strategize on stronger coordination and how to overcome barriers to participation
For a complete report of the LiveWell Chaffee County Food Assessment, click here.