top of page

Learning Guide: Community food movement in the US


From 2011-2016, over three dozen people at five community-based organizations (CBOs), three universities, and one college collaborated on the action, research and education project we called Food Dignity. During those five funded years and two additional ones, we collaborated in mapping and traveling the most appropriate and effective roads forward for creating sustainable community food systems that build food security in the US.


This installment in the series of Food Dignity Learning Guides is a guide to products from Food Dignity about the community food movement in the United States. It addresses questions about how and why people and organizations who partnered in Food Dignity do community food justice work.


The goals, actions, and motivations of people and organizations in the US community food movement are as diverse as our nation. This diversity is reflected even within the group of activists and academics in Food Dignity. Our experiences in Food Dignity have led to the following reflections:


  • The organizing is about people, not food. Though academics tend to focus on the food system, CBO strategy and action centers on communities. For example, an academic might be most concerned with increasing yields rates in a community garden. Of course, most gardeners would appreciate having more fruits and vegetables, but both gardeners and the CBOs that support them have other goals as well. Relaxing, minimizing input costs, and maximizing social connections might be higher priorities than improving yields, and they would not want to risk compromising the former for the latter.

  • This kind of food work is necessary, but not sufficient on its own, to achieve social equity and food justice.

  • Equity, food sovereignty, health and community leadership are the goals of the CBOs’ work.

  • Expectations for what CBOs can achieve on their own, particularly while surviving on small, short-term, and highly competitive grants, are often unreasonable. As described in this paper, urban agriculture cannot simultaneously provide fresh food at prices people struggling in poverty can afford, provide jobs for people who do not yet have expertise in the work, and be financially self-sustaining without significant and stable support. Contrary to implied or explicit expectations in some academic analyses of community food justice work, they also cannot reasonably be expected to undo neoliberalism on their own.

  • Networking, advocacy and public education, and mentoring activities underpin the direct food work that CBOs do, such as growing and sharing food. That work is less visible, and often less funded, but it forms the foundations for all other activities and achievements.

Food for thinking

  1. One of Feeding Laramie Valley’s (FLV) goals is “softening lines between giver and receiver.” Lina Dunning works at FLV, and her video I-story is called "The Grace to Receive." Imagine yourself volunteering at a soup kitchen. If your volunteering is giving, what are two possible ways that you could also intentionally receive while you are working there?

  2. In the US food system, there are some things we support with subsidies, such as crop insurance for commodity (e.g., corn, soy, cotton) farmers. Some things we support as services, such as school lunch. Some things we support with services, such as providing farmers with agricultural extension and water access. Some things, such as the work of most fruit and vegetable farmers and CBOs like those in Food Dignity, are on their own (other than by securing competitive public grant funds). If you could decide to support a CBO food activity as a public service, which activity would you support and why?

  3. The authors of the Ultimately about Dignity paper find that some food justice activists collaborating in the food dignity project subtly used a motivating frame for getting involved that they called “recompense.” Describe that frame in your own words. Do you find at motivating? Why and/or why not?

Additional Resources


Return to top of page

bottom of page