Evaluating Innovation and Promoting Success
in Community and Regional Food Systems
The overall goal of this project is to integrate research, outreach, and advocacy for sustainable
community and regional food systems (CRFS)1, leading to increased understanding of how to
build and maintain successful systems, and to enhanced implementation in communities at risk
of food insecurity. This will be the result of a new collaboration between one of the best
agricultural research universities in the world (University of Wisconsin-Madison) with a very
successful and internationally-recognized local food production and training organization
(Growing Power, Inc.), along with several collaborating academic and community organizations
bringing unique expertise.
Goals and Objectives
In an ideal world, adequate amounts of nutritious food should be consumed by every inhabitant
of the planet. Given the wealth of arable land, production capacity, know-how, and other
ingredients, this vision should be readily achievable by a nation such as the United States. Yet,
USDA (2008) indicates 17 million households were food insecure throughout 2008; a substantial
portion of our population does not have access to and is not consuming healthy food. Negative
consequences are most acute in poor communities.
The vision of food security – available and affordable food for all – is premised on a complex
chain of activities, including production, processing, and distribution. It typically involves many
individuals and organizations, and is influenced by economics, policies, and cultures (Bellows
and Hamm 2002). A single project such as this can only address a subset of the activities and
influences while contributing to the overall vision. Thus, we have two outcomes that arise from
the overall goal, one that focuses on specific needs and one that contributes to the larger cause:
- We will improve understanding of community and regional food systems, particularly keys to
successful development or expansion of activities that result in increases in healthy food
availability and affordability in socio-economically disadvantaged urban communities;
- We will identify the means and promote the production of larger quantities of healthy food in
and around large cities. Our focus will be on Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit where food
insecurity is extensive, with lessons from and outreach to several additional communities.
CRFS involve production, processing, distribution, preparation, and consumption of food. For
this proposal, we limit our scope to production, processing and distribution. We are not
addressing consumer choices and behaviors, nor, with some exceptions, the activities of
organizations and institutions at the end of food chains that interact directly with consumers.
Our research and outreach are predicated on the assumption that improving the amount and
quality of food available to retailers, markets, and institutional providers will result in improved
We have adopted the American Planning Association (2007) term “community and regional food
system” (CRFS) to define the scope for our project. Community provides the context for the social and
organizational networks necessary for food production and processing organized for local distribution into
urban areas. Regional denotes a geographic context of production within a reasonable distance of areas of
need, as indicated by sustainability in transportation and labor (which may differ by commodity).
Innovation and Success in CRFS 1
food security in communities where supply is a constraint (Gallagher 2006, 2007; Pothukuchi et
al. 2007). This assumption will be explicitly evaluated because we include established metrics of
food security in our project evaluation process.
Our goal and supporting outcomes are supported by three objectives and associated outcomes.
1) Develop a framework for characterizing all relevant dimensions of CRFS. By codifying
concepts and developing tools for characterizing systems, we can identify barriers to creation of
new food system activities and limitations to expansion of current systems. The framework will
create a common language and set of tools to link research and practice and to support the
exchange of ideas between university researchers, extension agents, advocates, and practitioners.
2) Provide guidance on how to address constraints and create opportunities to expand and
enhance CRFS. Through case study research and development of the CRFS framework, we will
identify “best practices” in food production, processing, and distribution – practices that are
sustainable and responsive to local needs and conditions. Guidance will include ideas about
how to address causal influences on CRFS success such as building community and regional
food infrastructure, increasing the capacity of organizations, identifying policies and incentives
that support CRFS, and training and educating people within communities.
3) Increase the capacity of local organizations to successfully participate in CRFS. Once the
framework and tools are developed, local organizations will be able evaluate their own CRFS
and address specific constraints. The process we develop can be generalized for implementation
in any community. For our collaborating communities, this proposal includes an “innovation
fund” to experiment with ideas specific to their own circumstances. This will both resolve issues
in the particular community and contribute to our general knowledge of opportunities and
constraints. The framework and best practices will also supplement existing training and
education programs by local organizations.
The first objective is our primary research activity. The development and validation of
framework to characterize CRFS will require acquisition and integration of knowledge from
many different fields of inquiry. Development of associated measurement tools and metrics will
entail empirical research in collaboration with community organizations and directly with
producers, processors, and distributors. The second and third objectives are more oriented to
outreach/Extension, and these both include an education component.
Background Knowledge and Activities
The knowledge for this project will come from the collaboration of four primary organizations
and numerous community collaborators.
The University of Wisconsin2 has expertise in all of the elements of our proposed CRFS
framework in departments and in several research and outreach centers that will be involved with
this project. The centers include:
- Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems – research and outreach on how integrated
farming systems contribute to environmental, economic, and social sustainability;
For budgetary purposes, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Extension are
treated as separate institutions. In the domain of this project, they function as one unit through jointly
appointed faculty and staff, and shared facilities and activities.
Innovation and Success in CRFS 2
- Agricultural Innovation Center – provides a support network for innovation and
entrepreneurship in Wisconsin agriculture;
- Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture – provides a vision for and coordination of
sustainable agriculture research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Land Information and Computer Graphics Facility – research and development on spatial
analysis for land suitability characterization, land tenure, and land use planning.
Over the past decade, Growing Power, based in Milwaukee with a project office in Chicago, has
developed innovative methods for intensive, year-round urban food production, distribution and
marketing through greenhouse vegetable growing, closed-system aquaponics, vermicomposting,
and large-scale organic composting. Growing Power has become a national leader in providing
training and technical assistance in sustainable growing systems to individuals and communities
across the United States – low-income urban, rural and tribal communities of color, in particular.
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is a Wisconsin-based organization focused on sustainable
agriculture, conducting research, education, and policy advocacy. Recent policy successes
include a new Wisconsin “Buy Local” law and a state-subsidized farm-to-school program. Their
policy team will bring both state and national perspectives to our research and outreach.
Similar to the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University offers expertise across the
range of topics in our framework. They have several projects in and around Detroit, which is
both an area of significant need in food security and a hotbed of innovation. These collaborators
bring expertise in economic analysis to our team.
We have developed an initial framework for CRFS evaluation. The elements, their significance,
and some possible measurement approaches and metrics are briefly described below. It should
be noted that this is a working list, subject to refinement through the course of our project.
Land Suitability: Important characteristics of land suitability include soil properties (e.g.,
fertility, tilth, organic matter), drainage, land use history (particularly contamination in urban
contexts) and limitations affecting infrastructure. Public participation geographic information
systems (PPGIS) can play a critical role in providing and analyzing land-related data, though
tools for this specific application are rudimentary at best.
Land Tenure and Land Economics: Agricultural land tenure conditions influencing CRFS
include form of access (own, rent, share-crop, etc.), contracts, rental rates, and ownership
structure (e.g., absentee ownership, rentals within families, land trusts and subleases). Nearby
land uses can also influence the viability of an operation, as well as influencing land prices.
Some of this information can also be acquired and organized in a GIS context, though details
of individual land tenure situations will need to come directly from CRFS participants.
Production Systems: Growers have a wide range of choices about crop and cultivar selection,
fertility sources, nutrient management, weed and pest management, water management.
Producers of animals and animal products similarly choose from many species, breeds,
husbandry methods, and so forth. In addition, local food systems may have unique
opportunities for nutrient recycling and weed control through composting and vermiculture.
These choices can be evaluated from multiple perspectives including costs, benefits, risks,
Innovation and Success in CRFS 3
environmental sustainability, and so forth. Some evaluation tools have already been
developed for large-scale commercial agriculture and can be adapted to the CRFS context.
Production and Processing Infrastructure: The costs and benefits of production infrastructure,
such as irrigation, equipment storage, season-extension, and processing and storage facilities
need careful evaluation. Matching the chosen infrastructural components to organizational
goals and local economy can have a significant impact on the viability of an enterprise. For
example, the quality and marketability of fresh produce can depend on post-harvest
management. Cooling and processing facilities which connect production to urban centers are
important, along with related research and development on methods to ensure food safety. In
some locations, infrastructure supporting reliable and affordable water will be critical as well.
Transportation and Logistics: The costs of moving people, supplies, equipment, and produce
influences profitability and sustainability, and in some situations presents a significant
logistics challenge. Potential gains in efficiency from investment in collective transport of
people and produce can be evaluated. In some venues, it may be necessary to evaluate
consumer access to the market (e.g., transportation options, traffic concerns, parking).
Transportation options and logistics for a single supply chain can be evaluated with GIS and
spread-sheet based models. Broader market and food supply evaluations need to be
conducted in the context of urban and regional planning.
Marketing, Markets, and Food Distribution: Whether driven by social or profit-oriented goals,
enterprises need to interest consumers in their products. This requires information to
understand target market demographics and preferences which leads to marketing strategies.
An information system should include mechanisms for customer feedback and for providing
timely information to producers about market dynamics. Analyses could include marketing
and market development, produce aggregation, efficiencies of scale, signaling market
opportunities and the potential for modifying an existing food system to address local needs.
Business Models and Management: The business structure of a CRFS enterprise will reflect
goals of the organizations involved. While organizations will differ in the goals they
emphasize - profit, sustainability, community, education - observation of specific elements of
business structure and management such as organizational form, accounting methods, record
keeping and time management methods, decision-making structures, personnel management,
and learning and adaptation processes will be useful for characterizing best practices for
different kinds of organizations.
Capital and Labor: The type and availability of both capital and labor for CRFS entrepreneurs is
different than large-scale commercial counterparts. Mainstream lending agencies, both public
and private, do not deal with urban and small-scale regional agriculture; conversely, a wide
variety of grants or loans created for community development or public health purposes are
offered. Labor differs as well. Production for CRFS can be based on part-time farming, may
tap into extensive but untrained labor pools, and can use volunteer labor and internships.
Community and Cultural Relations: Many individuals and organizations comprise a CRFS,
coming from different communities and cultures. This leads to different assumptions and
beliefs. Networks, forums, procedures, and leadership to communicate and resolve
differences are necessary for effective functioning of the overall system. One measure of a
Innovation and Success in CRFS 4
healthy system could be extent to which it incorporates consensus-based decision making and
stakeholder participation. It will also be useful to assess signs of food injustice - the influence
of biases and stereotypes, cultural beliefs, and perceptions of empowerment and
marginalization in specific groups - on the effectiveness of communications and networks.
Legal and Political Environment: Policy affects CRFS through direct mechanisms such as land
use controls, processing facility requirements, and production incentives and subsidies. It can
also be used to support organizations, build and provide infrastructure, conduct research and
training, and so forth. State and federal policies and programs are pervasive but have varying
affects on individual enterprises and systems. The local legal/political environment can have
direct affects on enterprises. Examples include personal and organizational connections to the
political process, activities of advocacy organizations, enforcement (or not) of existing laws
for land tenure, zoning, food processing, and so forth. Understanding how policy constrains
CRFS in a given community and potential affects of policy changes is critical to success.
The refinement and validation of this framework will proceed using the tools of complex systems
analysis, with evidence coming from case studies and interaction with practitioners. A complex
system has numerous interacting components within the system, and elements that interact with
the broader environment (in this case, the social, economic, and physical conditions that
surround a city). Complex systems cannot be understood by looking solely at individual
elements, but elemental analysis is an appropriate starting point for understanding the overall
system and will result in practical information relevant to outreach and training activities.
Our research toward an overall framework and conceptual model will be built on three
approaches. The first is the stock and flow or node-link network approaches used in complex
systems modeling (e.g., Amaral and Ottino 2004), starting with diagrammatic representations of
systems and then mathematical descriptions. The second approach is logistics modeling
(vanBeek 2003). Logistics modeling may be particularly helpful to understand transportation
and supply chain aspects of CRFS. It too starts with conceptual diagrams, and has the potential
advantage of leading to tools based on spreadsheet software. Geospatial modeling provides the
basis for representation of spatial (and temporal) phenomena in conjunction with either of the
other approaches and integrating data that otherwise cannot be combined (see Frank, Raper and
Cheylan (2001) for examples of geospatial analysis in complex socio-economic systems).
Rationale and Significance
We believe that a substantial need exists for applied research that links university expertise with
successful practice, resulting in outreach resources and training dedicated to the specific needs of
current and potential producers, processors, and distributors, along with organizations supporting
and entrepreneurs investing in commercially-oriented CRFS. We have come to this observation
based on review of the literature, discussions with staff of advocacy and support organizations, a
meeting of the Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network dedicated to discussing urban agriculture
research needs, and a listening session on sustainable agriculture and local food systems
conducted by the Dane County Food Council.
Land Grant university agricultural research has traditionally focused on extensive commercial
production on rural lands. Much of what is currently known about CRFS is garnered through
experience and observation of people engaged in a wide variety of operations without the benefit
of university expertise. Some “trickle-down” information from mainstream agricultural research
Innovation and Success in CRFS 5
may be directly applicable to CRFS, but mostly it will need to be adapted to unique issues and
conditions of peri-urban farming and urban markets. Similarly, outreach through Extension
organizations for CRFS is limited, though not non-existent. For example, in Wisconsin,
Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension has three specialists focused on urban agriculture; the
next most populous county (Dane) has none. Although some of the state Extension specialists
have urban agriculture as part of their portfolio, none of them focus on this exclusively.
In the void of support from Land Grant based outreach, numerous non-profit education and
advocacy organizations provide information and support for CRFS. The information they
provide is scattered through a wide range of formats and media. It is based primarily in
experience. Though some of this is quite valuable, the reliability and generality of such
information is difficult to ascertain. Moreover, little of the available guidance is focused
specifically on the needs and interests of small-scale commercial production, with some notable
exceptions, such as the training programs of Growing Power and an increasing set of “gray
literature” in publications and web-resources of organizations such as the New England Small
Farm Institute (http://growingnewfarmers.org/), ATTRA (http://attra.ncat.org/), and others.
Effective communication of complex phenomena and issues is the key mechanism for linking
research and practice. Thus, the creation of a framework to characterize and observe/measure
CRFS is our central concept from which specific research, outreach, and education arise.
Effective communication about the keys to successful creation, operation, and expansion of
CRFS requires detailed information about current conditions and potential consequences of
changes to the system (Pothukuchi, et al 2002). It also requires a common language describing
the information that all participants understand and use, as well as validated and agreed-upon
tools and methods for generating the information.
Production, processing, and distribution of fresh food for CRFS can be complex; conditions can
be dynamic. Typical agronomic and processing challenges are exacerbated by land use,
transportation, economic, political and social issues. To be successful in this environment, timely
and relevant information are essential. Academics need information to evaluate the system
components and to understand how and why they flourish or fail. Consultants, extension agents,
and advocates need information to provide sound advice to growers, processors, distributors,
investors and government representatives. Participants in every component of a local supply
chain can use information to make appropriate choices and evaluate alternatives.
The framework for generating CRFS information will be refined in three major Midwestern
cities (Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee) through case studies and tested in several more through
outreach and education activities. The specific methods for observation and resulting best
practices will be applicable in cities throughout the region and similar agro-eco zones in the U.S.
northeast. By working with the cities of Madison, WI and Cedar Rapids, IA we will elucidate
means of scaling findings to smaller urban areas. The inclusion of observations in Los Angeles
and Boston will ensure that the general concepts are valid nationwide.
Relationship of the Project‘s Objectives to Program Area Priorities
This section provides a brief synopsis of how we address a subset of the extensive list of
requirements in the Improved Sustainable Food Systems request for applications (RFA). Our
Innovation and Success in CRFS 6
motivation is synonymous with the Program Area Priority to “develop research, education, and
extension sustainable programs on local and regional food systems…”
Our proposal arises directly from the requirement to “…explore best practices in [CRFS]
projects, better understand the basis for success or failure, measure the innovations, assess social,
economic, and environmental impact, determine cost/benefit, and provide feedback and
replication opportunities to improve the work.” The identification of best practices through
development of an assessment framework will improve the quality and specificity of outreach
and training programs. Tools and metrics for impact assessment, risk analysis, and cost/benefit
analysis are an integral part of the proposed framework.
Stakeholders (both direct participants such as producers, processors, and distributors, and
supporters such as advocates, organizers, and entrepreneurs) will help develop the framework
and tools and will use it in their own domains. Our “innovation fund” pilot projects will support
specific experiments – to understand causal relations between activities and outcomes, and to
assist specific organizations in improving their functioning in a CRFS. Our collaborators’
current activities focus on needs of disadvantaged communities. The collaborators will comprise
a stakeholders council that ensures the active participation and representation of these
communities. This will also provide a basis for identifying and creating linkages to on-going
programs and related research activities.
The RFA includes an extensive list of topic areas. This proposal will at least touch on all but a
few and will focus on several. Our proposal does not specifically address Farm-to-institution
systems nor “identification of special features of local food cultures,” though these topics will
undoubtedly come up in our case study research and may be part of our innovation fund projects.
Contributions to Long-range Sustainability of US Agriculture and Food Systems
This project contributes to sustainability of US agriculture and food systems in three ways.
- We demonstrate an unprecedented linkage between research and practice in an area where
such linkages are notably lacking; it is based on synthesis of knowledge from numerous
disciplines along with experiential knowledge. One result will be an applied research
agenda that arises from stakeholder needs, along with flows of information and best
practices that have been rigorously evaluated and refined by scientists and practitioners.
- We build the basis for observing and characterizing CRFS that can be used to identify ways
of enhancing and expanding local food production and distribution to food insecure
communities. The near term result will be more sustainable local agriculture and
associated processing. As demand (consumption) increases, food security will improve in
the long term, with a resulting feedback to improved agricultural profitability.
- We improve materials and methods used to educate and train participants and organizations
involved in CRFS through the incorporation of research-based best practices and through a
more effective framework for communication about the systems. Improved knowledge and
skills will lead to CRFS that are more robust, more adaptable, and more resilient.
This project entails two major research phases and numerous associated activities. In the first
phase (the first two years of the project), we will use case study research and several kinds of
stakeholder interactions to refine and validate our framework for understanding CRFS and to
Innovation and Success in CRFS 7
develop and test methods and metrics for using the framework as an evaluation tool. In the
second phase, we will collaborate with local organizations in eight cities (all of the case study
cities plus Minneapolis) to evaluate their CRFS framework and to implement interventions
intended both to test hypotheses arising from the framework and to enhance or expand local
CRFS capacity. This will be facilitated through sub-contracts with local organizations, herein
referred to as innovation fund pilot projects.
Outreach and training will take place throughout the project, increasingly incorporating findings
from research activities over the course of the project. High school education activities will be
integrated with outreach and training throughout the project, and post-secondary education will
be part of the innovation fund pilot project evaluations. Major evaluation efforts will occur
during the third year of the project, looking at the framework development outcomes and during
the last year, looking at how it has been used and at the success of the innovation fund projects.
The overall project will be initiated with a kick-off meeting involving project investigators,
collaborators, and invited experts. Investigators and collaborators will meet at least annually
thereafter. At the kickoff meeting, we will define roles and responsibilities, provide a clear set of
near- and long-term instructions, and schedule on-going meetings. Two workshops will be
conducted as part of this meeting. The first will be to review the initial evaluation framework to
refine it based on extant literature and knowledge of participants, and to select initial methods
and metrics for evaluation as part of the operational tools. The second workshop will be used to
specify baseline measures to ascertain the current status of CRFS in the case study communities
and to develop procedures for feeding these observations into a long term evaluation process.
The kick-off meeting will be conducted over two days in Madison WI. Thereafter, project
meetings will be held in other cities under the sponsorship of primary or collaborating
organizations. Meetings will be video-taped for dissemination as streaming videos. Workshop
portions of meetings will be simulcast as interactive webinars to allow broader participation.
The results of the project kickoff meeting will be an initial research agenda, a plan for
incorporating research results and best practices into outreach materials and training programs,
and a set of procedures for project evaluation. Subsequent meetings will be used to update all
participants on project progress on these broad objectives as well as specific project activities.
1) Case Study Evaluation of CRFS in Seven Communities
We will use case studies in seven communities to refine and validate our CRFS framework, and
to test methods for measuring or observing framework elements. In year one, we will conduct
detailed studies in Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit, culminating in a site visit with the CRFS
experts team (see Management Plan tab for description of the experts team). In the second year,
we will study Boston and Los Angeles to validate the framework in a national context, and Cedar
Rapids and Madison to understand issues of scaling from large to medium sized cities.
In each city, we will conduct an intensive site review (activities detailed below). The purpose is
to provide for active two-way exchange of ideas and observations between our experts team and
local organizations and CRFS participants. We have identified a local host organization in each
community that will assist with meeting logistics and connections to the broader community.
Innovation and Success in CRFS 8
Activities: Each case study comprises these components:
- Background research: We will create a unified collection of academic and gray literature,
websites, and organizational and community profiles documenting what is reported about
CRFS and its participants in each community.
- Initial reconnaissance: Through email and phone calls, we will get up-to-date information on
the current status of CRFS in the communities, expand our network of contacts, solicit
participation in site visit activities, and make arrangements for the site visit.
- Site visit: For each city, we will assemble a site review team of six to ten people. The team
will include members from our experts team plus additional members recruited from
among collaborators. It will include expertise across the topics of the framework, and
representatives of academia, practice, and advocacy. To the extent feasible, this team will
have consistent members in each city. The site visit will include several kinds of meetings:
• farm and facility tours, designed to promote exchange of ideas between practitioners
and academics, and to identify potential best practices;
• meetings and interviews with local practitioners focused on understanding specific
constraints to enhancing and expanding CRFS and generating potential solutions;
• meetings with advocacy and support organizations, to refine the CRFS
characterization framework and determine practical methods to use it;
• community forums open to all CRFS participants including consumers, to generate
more community engagement and brainstorm ways to expand the LFS projects.
These will be coupled with learning opportunities in communities that already
have Growing Power-mediated training.
- Follow up meetings: We anticipate that our site visits will require some follow up activities
to continue the exchange of ideas and information between our experts team and local
collaborators. When issues are identified but unresolved in the site visit, we will follow up
with focus groups on specific issues. Each city will have a CRFS outcomes evaluation.
Methods: To generate suggestions for enhancing and expanding CRFS, the general evaluation
technique provided by SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) will guide
the case studies (Armstrong 1982). As suggested by Hill and Westbrook (1997), this technique
needs to be coupled with strategic planning and a priority setting process for it to useful as a
guidance tool. These will be structured into our meetings and follow up reporting.
We will discuss and refine the elements of the CRFS characterization framework with local
stakeholders. This will result in selecting a set of variables for each element that are causally
related to the success of their community’s situation and that can be observed or measured from
extant data and tools and methods adapted to the purpose. A prototype version will be
completed at the end of the first year of case studies. This will be tested and refined during the
second year’s studies, resulting in a working version for use with innovation fund pilot projects.
We expect four products out of the case study activity:
- Site reports. Each community will be provided with a report from the site visit and follow
up that includes an overview of their CRFS. Text and structured systems diagrams will be
Innovation and Success in CRFS 9
used to describe how the system is currently functioning. The SWOT analysis will lead to
suggestions about how to improve the overall system, and interactions with our expert team
will result in descriptions of best practices that can be considered for adoption.
- Case studies report: We will report on our findings from the case studies in the form of a
book manuscript with corresponding web-resources and evaluation tools. The book will
have two sections – highlights from the site reports (one chapter per city, written from the
perspective of community collaborators) and chapters for each framework element.
- Web resources: As part of the framework development, we will identify various web-based
data sets and tools (e.g., spreadsheets, models, evaluation templates) that can be distributed
from a project website. We will videotape portions of the site visits, particularly some of
the best practices on farms, processing facilities, and markets. This footage will be edited
for training snippets for stand-alone viewing and incorporation into training materials.
- CRFS characterization framework: This will be a manuscript and a web-based template
with explanations, instructions, and tools/methods/models for each of the framework
elements and associated variables.
Analysis and Interpretation: For refining and validating our CRFS characterization framework,
we will need to organize and analyze a large amount of evidence gathered through literature
review, meetings, interviews, forums, and focus groups. It is well beyond the scope of what can
be included in this proposal to detail all the methods that will be appropriate for each of the ten
framework categories, let alone the numerous potential variables that might be observed or
measured. In general terms, we will use diagrams (e.g., network link-node diagrams for
organizations and processes, entity-relation diagrams for information flows, logistics diagrams
for food production and transportation) to develop initial concepts and hypotheses. Hypotheses
will be tested and tools validated through triangulation - from multiple forms of evidence, from
multiple cities, and from multiple participants’ observations. We will use project management
software on a project web-server to manage data and documents, to track development of
components, and to provide access to resources for all participants.
Use of Results and Products: It is our belief that the CRFS characterization framework will be
useful as an evaluation tool in any American city to understand how a CRFS is functioning and
to identify opportunities for enhancing and expanding the system. We will evaluate this
hypothesis as part of the innovation fund pilot projects, described next. Growing Power and
University of Wisconsin-Extension will develop workshops that include the CRFS framework as
a community diagnostic tool.
2) Innovation Fund Pilot Projects
We will provide one-year grants of $50,000 to selected collaborators in our case study cities3.
From our project’s perspective, the purpose of this funding is to conduct empirical research on
elements of the characterization framework. We will work with collaborators to help them
We have included a recipient from one other city – the Women’s Environmental Initiative in
Minneapolis. This will extend innovation fund research both geographically (into another large
Midwestern city) and demographically/culturally (women and Native American populations). This will
also provide an opportunity for applying and evaluating the utility of the characterization framework in a
community without prior contact with the case study team.
Innovation and Success in CRFS 10
design projects that also contribute to improving their CRFS. For example, the case study
evaluation may identify local land use policy as a significant barrier to local production of honey.
The pilot project activity carried out by the collaborator could be advocacy and education to
change the policy, with evaluation of research questions about change strategies and impacts of
local policies examined jointly by the experts team and collaborators. Another example is
funding development of a market analysis and business plan for a processing facility, with
accompanying research on planning tools, and whether they affect implementation success.
We anticipate funding four year-long projects each in years 3 and 4, and two in the final project
year. Projects in the final year will be designed for nine months to provide time for post-project
evaluation. These organizations have expressed interest in participating in this project:
1. UW-Extension, Milwaukee County (Milwaukee)
2. Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development (Cedar Rapids)
3. The Food Project (Boston)
4. Center for Resilient Cities (Madison)
5. Milwaukee Public School System (Milwaukee)
6. Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (Detroit)
7. Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council (Chicago)
8. Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (Los Angeles)
9. Women's Environmental Institute (Minneapolis)
10. Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens (Madison)
Activities: The Innovation Fund Pilot Projects will start with a solicitation to the collaborating
groups for proposals. Although they have already agreed to participate in the overall project,
they do not have specific proposals developed at this point, as these will arise from the case
study reviews and subsequent discussions. Their proposals will meet these criteria:
- addressing a specific issue or issues identified through use of our characterization framework
and case study activities;
- based on hypothesis-driven research intended to elucidate consequences of interventions
addressing key drivers of CRFS success;
- including before and after assessment of CRFS functions and achievements;
- built around a partnership of community organization(s) and research institution(s), with a
commitment to a long term relation between the organizations beyond the funding year;
- incorporating student interns as part of the research, and amenable to assistance and review
by UW-Madison graduate practicum classes;
- contributing to the improvement or expansion of the CRFS in their community.
Methods: After collaborating groups submit innovation fund pilot project proposals, they will
proceed through these steps:
a) Evaluation of the proposals by the experts team and the lead collaborating organization in
the associated city, resulting in feedback and proposal iterations to ensure that the projects
meet our criteria.
b) Submission of sub-award proposals for approval by University of Wisconsin-Madison
followed by submission of overall project addenda to USDA-NIFA to provide assurance
Innovation and Success in CRFS 11
that the pilot projects meet all required budgetary and compliance requirements, leading to
approval of overall project revision from UW and USDA-NIFA.
c) Baseline evaluation of conditions associated with the subject of the proposal, as a joint
effort of the experts team and local collaborators. This and the post-project evaluation will
include methods and metrics from our characterization framework. If the projects are
likely to have an observable affect on food security or nutrition in the time frame of the
project, we will also use standardized measures such as the Community Food Security
Coalition’s Evaluation Program (http://www.foodsecurity.org/evaluation_pg2.html) or
Nutrition Environment Measures Surveys (http://www.med.upenn.edu/nems/index.shtml).
As described in the Education section of this proposal, some of the pilot projects will also
include evaluation by UW-Madison graduate students in Agroecology or Urban and
Regional Planning programs.
d) Implementation of pilot project activities. Pilot projects will be managed by local
collaborators, with quarterly reports to and consultation provided by the experts team.
e) Presentation of project results by local collaborators at annual overall project meeting,
including webinar broadcast.
f) Post-project evaluation to assess CRFS progress and to document research findings, again
as a joint effort of local collaborators and experts team.
Expected Outcomes: In general terms, we expect that the pilot projects will help overcome
constraints to improvements in food security in the selected communities. Specific products will
be two project reports – one oriented to a scientific audience reporting on the hypothesis
evaluation and before/after measures of success, and one oriented to practitioners and advocates
describing the project activities, lessons learned, and innovative methods and practices that were
demonstrated as part of the project.
Analysis and Interpretation: Analytic methods will depend on the nature of activities proposed
in the pilot projects. In addition, we will conduct before/after evaluations as described in steps c)
and f) above.
Use of Results and Products: The activities of the pilot projects are expected to result in
measurable improvements in CRFS. These will be documented in the practitioners reports. The
reports will be disseminated as web-resources associated with the evaluation framework and
incorporated in outreach and training materials. The science reports from the pilot projects will
be the basis for manuscripts contributing to academic literature.
Interest in local foods has surged in the last few years; people of all ages want to garden, buy
local, and support regional enterprises. This generates a concomitant interest in learning and a
need for education at multiple levels. For this project, we have integrated three different kinds of
educational experiences at three different levels - pre-college enrichment, undergraduate
internships, and post-graduate practicums. The concepts and practices of CRFS will be part of
education at all levels. Although nutrition and health are not emphasized in research and
outreach components of this project, we include experts in these fields to provide this necessary
scope in educational efforts. Students need to understand the critical relations between food,
nutrition, and health to understand the importance of fresh produce.
Innovation and Success in CRFS 12
1) PEOPLE Program Pre-college Enrichment.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison established the PEOPLE program (Pre-College
Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence; http://www.peopleprogram.wisc.edu)
to improve campus diversity and to provide opportunities for high school students from socio-
economically disadvantaged communities that have limited records of success at large
universities. The purpose is to interest high school students in continuing their education into
college, providing college-preparation classes and experiences, and easing cultural transitions.
The PEOPLE program has been highly successful since its inception in 1999, including
matriculating 359 students into the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Although the PEOPLE program works on academic enrichment with its students throughout the
year, its core is summer workshops; these provide an opportunity for in-depth instruction in
CRFS concepts and interaction with experts and practitioners. The workshops are progressive in
scope and depth as students move through a three-year high school program -- one week hands-
on exploration for rising sophomores, three weeks in the second summer, and a six week
internship experience for third year participants.
We will interact with PEOPLE program in two ways:
- Summer workshops: Our experts team, with assistance from collaborators, will develop a
workshop for the PEOPLE program to support students interested in CRFS. The
workshops will be integrated with other PEOPLE program curricula and will include
discussions, field trips, and hands on activities which provide education in aspects of the
ten elements of our characterization framework. Growing Power will provide hands-on
skills from their training programs. The curriculum will be developed in the first year of
the project in consultation with PEOPLE program staff. It will be offered to two cohorts of
ten students, starting in the second and third year of the project and continuing through the
fourth and fifth year. PEOPLE program participants are free to choose from any of several
workshops, so our basic metric of success will be number of students choosing our
workshop. The goal of the PEOPLE program is to matriculate students into the university.
We will consider it a substantial success if students select a major based on their CRFS
summer workshop. Student learning goals will be identified as part of the workshop
development process; in broad terms, these will be built on understanding the CRFS
framework and how it applies to their community. Given the growing interest in CRFS, it
is likely that other sources of funding can be identified for continuation of the CRFS
workshops beyond this project. Web-based workshop instructional materials will be made
available to other organizations to develop similar workshops.
- Growing Power and other collaborators conduit to PEOPLE: Growing Power engages
hundreds of volunteers annually, including scores of middle school and high school
students. This represents a tremendous opportunity to identify students with an interest and
proclivity for careers in CRFS and to channel them into the PEOPLE program. Growing
Power staff will distribute literature, provide contacts, and work with PEOPLE staff on
recruitment. Growing Power also works with numerous community-based collaborators
around Milwaukee and other Wisconsin communities, and can encourage these
organizations to become PEOPLE recruiters. High school students are recruited from non-
charter/non-voucher public schools during the spring semester of their 9th grade year. All
students must enter the program through PEOPLE’s regular, open enrollment, competitive
Innovation and Success in CRFS 13
process and be reviewed and accepted by their admission review panel. Our measures of
success will be the numbers of students that apply and that successfully enroll in the
PEOPLE program because of a Growing Power connection. This activity has no specific
student learning outcome beyond that of the PEOPLE Program.
2) Undergraduate Internship
Each of the innovation fund pilot projects will include at least one student intern in their
activities. The role of the intern will be described in the pilot project proposal, with an
expectation that they play a substantive role in the project (to avoid using interns for menial or
trivial tasks). The availability of these internships will be coordinated by University of
Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Office of Undergraduate
Programs and Services, with parallel listings of availability at Michigan State and Iowa State.
Students will register for internship or independent study credits with a professor involved in this
project or another with appropriate expertise. Student and professor will develop a study plan,
including learning objectives and evaluation measures, based on the collaborator’s pilot project
and the overall CRFS framework. Students will complete an internship report and present their
experience as part of the pilot project collaborators’ reports at an overall project annual meeting.
3) Graduate Practicums
Masters degree students in two graduate programs (Department of Urban and Regional Planning,
and Agroecology Program) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are required to participate in
semester long workshops oriented to applied problem-solving. These are student-led projects
under the guidance of one or more faculty members on the experts team. Students are
responsible for problem definition, project management, budgeting, and deliverables.
Each of the practicums will work with one or more of the innovation fund pilot projects.
Students and local collaborators will identify an issue – a subset of the overall pilot project
activity for which students can make a substantive contribution. They will also work with our
experts team on either the pre- or post-project evaluation to gain experience with CRFS tools and
metrics. The learning objective of a practicum is to provide students with a capstone experience
in a terminal masters programs that allows them to practice skills they will need as professionals,
both specific disciplinary skills and general skills such as speaking, writing, issue identification,
and project management. Students will write a group project report and present their findings
twice – to stakeholders in the pilot project community and to campus colleagues. These will be
the basis for faculty evaluation along with peer evaluation of class members’ efforts.
This project will include continuing education, organizational capacity building, community
organization, and CRFS participant training. We separately describe activities led by University
of Wisconsin-Extension (UWEX) and Growing Power, though it is important to note that we will
have regular staff interactions and coordination of activities. Both organizations will use the
CRFS framework as the conceptual basis for outreach, and both will use the tools and metrics
researchers develop and will contribute to their refinement and validation.
1) Growing Power Outreach and Training Programs
Growing Power’s outreach and training actions within this project will be focused on, but not
limited to, four primary activities. Each activity will be conducted over the five project years.
Innovation and Success in CRFS 14
The activities are all established programs that will be considerably enhanced through integration
with project research and participation of Extension professionals.
- Weekend From the Ground Up trainings held once per month from January through June at
Growing Power’s main site in Milwaukee. These provide 40-100 participants each month
with an intensive, hands-on introduction to Growing Power’s on-site growing systems in
workshops conducted by Growing Power staff. Although the trainings are open to all, this
project would support the targeted participation of representatives from organizations with
missions appropriate to the project’s CRFS objectives.
- This project will play significant role in further developing the concept and operating
practices behind Growing Power’s Regional Outreach Training Center model – 5-year
partnerships with a local community food organization to develop the partner’s capacity to
become a unique and effective food production and training site. Ten are currently
operating; we anticipate at least five more through this project. The project’s research
findings will allow the centers to access best practices documentation appropriate to their
individual objectives. It will also provide an overall CRFS framework to guide their
development as training sites and community food system leaders.
- The 5-month Commercial Urban Agriculture (CUA) program, held annually in Milwaukee
since 2007, trains potential and beginning entrepreneurs interested in urban farming,
processing and distribution. Participants are expected to develop a viable development
plan for a community-based food business. This will include using CRFS tools and metrics
such as market analysis and logistics tools, as well as how to incorporate CRFS-identified
best practices in their business models. The CUA program is open to all, but during the
project slots would go preferentially to participants connected to the regional training
centers and innovation fund pilot projects.
- Growing Power’s Youth Corps Apprenticeship programs in Milwaukee, Chicago and
Madison are based on the organization’s goal to have a positive impact on inner-city youth
through learning how to grow food. It teaches sustainable agriculture, job skills and
entrepreneurship to low-income youth aged 10-18. Educators with the PEOPLE program
will help identify best practices in youth-focused food systems education in our case study
communities. These will be incorporated as part of Youth Corps practices, then
documented for wider dissemination.
The general metric for success with Growing Power-supported training is participation. For all
Growing Power training programs, we will be able to compare future levels of participation to
that of at least the last three years. In addition, Growing Power will work with the project
evaluation specialist to build in evaluation of participant’s progress on learning objectives,
particularly those related to understanding and/or use of the CRFS framework. For example, we
will use workshop quizzes, skills tests, and observations as appropriate to venue and level.
2) University of Wisconsin-Extension Community Education and Capacity Building
UWEX scientists will be part of the experts team working with research scientists in case study
communities and pilot projects. They will help with background research, site visits, project
meetings, and community forums, and will provide recommendations for the most appropriate
and beneficial ways for on-going and long-term Extension participation in CRFS initiatives. As
part of the project, they will engage in these specific activities:
Innovation and Success in CRFS 15
- Build a peer network of Extension educators working in CRFS. We will engage and
facilitate a national Educator network to highlight project successes and share the research
results. Relationships and materials developed by this network are intended to play a
foundational role for a future CRFS Community of Practice. The Network will be
developed through forums in our case study communities, webinars of project workshops,
and social media tools including list-serves, blogs, Facebook, and YouTube.
- Build educator core competencies and confidence to work in CRFS by developing and
providing curriculum and training. In particular, we will develop a train-the-trainer
curriculum communicating the project’s research outcomes including CRFS best practices,
lessons learned, and implications of regional models. Delivery of this curriculum will be
through a web-based learning platform, in-service trainings at appropriate meetings in the
Midwest, national webinars and the CRFS Peer Network. A web-based learning platform
will include self-directed curriculum, video clips, webinar links, and additional resources.
- Develop tools that educators can use with communities to identify, build, and develop
components of CRFS. As an adjunct to training and as a contribution to CRFS framework
implementation, we will develop tools for Extension educators and community organizers
to use with their communities to develop CRFS components. Tools will be designed
specifically to assist educators in understanding characteristics of successful CRFS and
identifying barriers to CRFS. A Guidebook for Communities will be developed sharing best
practices and lessons learned regarding the establishment of successful CRFS. Topics will
include addressing food insecurity through CRFS; tools that have been developed; and
working with an Extension educator as a facilitator of community-based initiatives.
- Community-based innovation fund pilot project. A research project as described on page 10
will be conducted by Milwaukee County Extension in year 4 of the project. Pilot project
details will be developed as part of the overall project, though given known needs and
extant expertise, we know the project will include two elements: 1) cost-benefit analysis
and comparison of urban and peri-urban farming systems in Milwaukee County, including
cost of land, management, labor, supplies, and so forth, as well as the value of food
produced and income generated; and 2) a comprehensive inventory of all relevant urban
and peri-urban agriculture production operations within Milwaukee County, including
farms, community gardens, hoop-houses, aquaculture and other production systems.
Extension activities are oriented around specific products – building a peer network, developing
and presenting train-the-trainer curricula, and adapting and documenting CRFS tools. These
will, in general, proceed throughout project without signature events. The train-the-trainer
curricula and associated tools will be developed by the end of the second year of the project, as
these are substantially based on findings from case study research. Web-based materials will “go
live” by the end of the third year, and the guidebook will be available by the end of the fourth.
The success of the peer networking process will be noted by participation. Understanding of and
ability to use CRFS concepts and tools will be measured directly with surveys at the end of train-
the-trainer workshops. Follow up surveys three months and one year later will be used to
ascertain the extent to which concepts and tools are used.
The preceding activity descriptions have included success measures and procedures for
evaluation. To finalize and quantify these plans, we have included an Extension evaluation
Innovation and Success in CRFS 16
specialist on the experts team. She will work with project staff and collaborators to refine
measures and methods for evaluating research, instruction, and outreach.
Potential Pitfalls, Limitations, and Precautions
This research is predicated on the assumption that a CRFS is made stronger by improving its
component parts. Overall food security is not directly measured as part of this project, though
evidence about food supply and its availability in specific areas will be generated as we look at
production, processing, and distribution capacities and mechanisms in our case study cities. We
will not be studying consumer behavior and nutrition as part of this project.
A continuing challenge of this effort will be to specify manageable project boundaries from the
continuum of activities and practices that contribute to CRFS. At the lower end, isolated back
yard and community gardens have little impact on an area’s food supply. However, programs
that encourage wide-spread adoption and linkage to markets should be included in assessments.
At the upper end, where production resembles mainstream commercial agriculture, bounds are
set by sustainability concepts. Operational definitions of sustainability are subjective and still
evolving. We will be guided by emerging efforts such as standards efforts by the Keystone
Center (http://www.keystone.org/spp/environment/ag-food-nutrition) and the Leonardo
tempered by the judgment of the experts team. We also hope and believe that the evaluation
framework and best practices identified in this project will encourage large scale commercial
producers in proximity to cities to move in the direction of improved sustainability and
participation in local markets.
The ability to generalize from case studies is a potential weakness of our approach. Undoubtedly,
some of the conditions and circumstances we document will be unique to specific locations and
organizations. This limitation should be mitigated by looking in depth at three cities, using four
others to see what can be generalized to very different contexts (different agro-ecosystems,
different production and processing systems, different communities, different sizes, etc.).
Building solid working relations between academics and community organizations is potentially
a threat to the timeline of this project. Trust-building can be a slow process requiring long-term
commitment. Local food advocates do not necessarily believe that Land Grant universities,
which have traditionally supported mainstream commercial agriculture, have much to offer them.
The alliance between Growing Power and the University of Wisconsin should mitigate this issue.
Growing Power is widely known and respected in the non-profit, community food system world,
and has numerous contacts and connections in our case study cities. Their recognition is part of
the reason why we chose to budget eight of ten pilot project recipients as pass-through funds
from Growing Power.
It is also possible that some of the community organizations we have identified in this proposal
may not be able to conduct research more than three years from now, or may not develop
proposals that are acceptable to the experts team. All of the cities we are studying have
numerous organizations working on CRFS, so soliciting a substitute should not be difficult.
This project will entail interviews and observations of human subjects not directly connected to
the research. Therefore, we will submit a research protocol for review by the University of
Wisconsin-Madison Institutional Review Board.
Innovation and Success in CRFS 17
This timeline shows major project activities, based on a start date of 1/1/2011, by project year
and half-year. S = start, F = finish.
1-1 1-2 2-1 2-2 3-1 3-2 4-1 4-2 5-1 5-2
Project coordination meetings S S S S S
Case studies (2 rounds)
Background research S
Site visits S F S F
Follow up focus groups SF SF
Reports S F
Book manuscript S F
Characterization framework S F
Innovation fund projects (3 rounds)
Solicit proposals S S S
Baseline evaluation S S S
Conduct projects S F S F S F
Follow up evaluation S F S F SF
Project presentations F F F
PEOPLE Program (2 cohorts)
Worskhop development S F
Recruitment S F S F
Enrollment in workshops S S F F
Learning evaluation S F
Undergraduate Internships (3 groups)
Recruitment S S S
Participation S F S F S F
Outcome assessment S S F
Graduate Practicums (2 groups)
Project definition S S
Project research S F S F
Class presentations and reports F F
Growing Power training
From the Ground Up training S S S S S F
Regional Outreach Training – on-going
CUA program S S S S S F
Youth Corps apprenticeships – on-going
Peer network S F
Curriculum and tool development S F
Educator training sessions S F
Innovation and Success in CRFS 18