What is a Community Food Assessment?Every congregation, every community, has gifts to bring to the table when it comes to sustaining local farms, relieving hunger, and honoring the land. Scripture is full of stories where God faithfully transforms humble offerings of a couple of pancakes, say, or a few loaves, into life-giving food for the hungry. When Jesus feeds the hungry crowd that has gathered to hear his teaching, he doesn’t tell the disciples to form a committee, apply for a grant and hire staff people. He asks them to consider the gifts of the community, and to give what they have. This work is open to all. Food assessments help you size up the gifts and the challenges of your own setting. Often, the sheer scope of these issues feels overwhelming. It can be difficult to know where to start.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s not very effective, for example, to ask supermarkets to carry more local food if people in the community don’t have reliable transportation to get to the supermarkets in the first place. Similarly, the potential of a community garden may go unrealized if there is no way to distribute the fresh produce to those who need it most.
A good place to begin is to ask good questions. One common format that these questions take is called a food assessment. Food assessments vary widely in scope and depth, but the idea is to gather some helpful information about the needs of the community, particularly with respect to food.
How To Do a Community Food AssessmentThere are many ways to go about the process of discovering the challenges and opportunities, the needs and resources, of your local community. The process can be as complicated or as simple as you need it to be. First, you should decide what “community” means to your project. Are you hoping to improve food access for your congregation, your block, your town, or your county? The more widely you define “community” and the bigger the project you want to take on, the more information you’ll need. Then take stock of the resources you have for the assessment.
Assessments can be expensive, time-consuming and thorough. They can involve researching government records, conducting focus groups and interviews, events, and doing statistical analysis. On the other hand, they can be simple and quick. They could take the forms of a survey after a church event or a drive around the county with a camera, taking pictures of places where people could get food. If you only have a few people and a small or nonexistent budget, don’t be afraid to start small. Just be sure that the assessment fits the project.
Be open to surprises. God does not always point us in the direction we are expecting to go, and leadership and wisdom can often come from unexpected places. As we explore these issues in our own communities, we often find ourselves asking the question that Jesus asked his disciples when faced with a hungry crowd on the Galilean shoreline: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” As we work together to discover the challenges and opportunities in our own communities, God faithfully transforms even our smallest gifts into life-sustaining abundance.
Some ToolsA community discussion: Gather a group of people and answer these simple questions. This discussion is particularly good for finding out what people want and need, and can work for a large group. View or download a pdf.
Dot survey: Dot surveys are great ways to get information from a large group of people at an event. Simply post questions in the vetibule of the church, in a corner store, at a PTA meeting, or wherever large groups gather, and ask people to put stickers next to the answers that best describe them. View or download a pdf.
A survey for leaders: Gather leaders from your congregation and community, and have a more in-depth discussion about what resources and needs you have. Allow at least two hours. These questions also make a good guide for more in-depth research. View or download a pdf.
More InformationAbout community food assessments:
For examples of larger assessments:
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
Community Farm Alliance