Connecting Food & Place: Community Revitalization Efforts

(A Central Appalachian Foodshed Conference Session Topic)

Session Host: Geoff Alexander, EPA Local Food, Local Places

In this session, Geoff Alexander introduced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Local Foods, Local Places Program. He discussed the application process, the intended benefits of the program, and shared success stories. Participants discussed ways that that program could better serve communities and how the program could become more successful and long lasting following the project term.

The application process is highly competitive. In the two application rounds, there have been around 25 awardees selected from over 300 applicants. To make the program more accessible to communities who are not awarded access to support personnel from the EPA, the EPA is developing a toolkit designed to help communities self-facilitate the planning process. The program is designed to identify gaps and goals for moving forward; it is not intended to be used as a master planning process. The processing includes convening leaders from across sectors to develop a vision for the community, engage in food systems mapping, considering place-based opportunities, including how people are accessing local foods and physically getting to the places where local food is sold, action planning (creating a written document that allows people to identify where they’re at and where they’re headed and how), and identifying available and needed resources.

Alexander explained that the program emphases cross-sector connections to improve the possibility of using local foods as an economic driver for diversification and revitalization projects. Alexander provided the example of a farmer’s market increasing pedestrian foot traffic in a downtown by enhancing walkability to serve the market, and changing the way an area’s transportation network functions to better serve the farmer’s market and downtown area—all contributing to a more vibrant and accessible community center. Because the program is aimed to jumpstart cross-sector community planning projects, the program intends to enable people to work towards making many small changes in their community, rather than relying on a single big project for change. Participants examined examples of successful projects from Clarksdale, Michigan, and Hazard, Kentucky.

At the end of the session, participants had the opportunity to ask questions and provide Alexander with feedback on the program. Session participants discussed the issue that in some workshops, workshop participants did not adequately reflect the demographics of their community, with apparent exclusion along racial and economic lines. Another problem is that the program’s engagement generally starts with visible and established community leaders who have already been involved in this work, but there may be other groups within the community who need support. A third challenge is finding funding to continue the work, to make sure progress doesn’t end when funding ends.

Key Issues and Questions:

  • How can we ensure that the Local Food, Local Places consultant gets a realistic picture of the community’s cultural norms and expectations for development? How can you catch up an outsider so they can understand?

  • How can we make sure that all sectors of the population have a voice at the planning table?

  • How can Local Food, Local Places be expanded so that those that are not awarded the full planning support may self-facilitate the work?

More notes from the session.