Lexicon of the commmunity food movement

It was suggested last week that I might do a talk for adult literacy providers about how food organizing connects to their work. I began to think about what I would frame such a talk, possibly focusing on how food organizers are working from the social determinants framework to understand the many barriers that restrict our neighbors from adopting healthy living strategies, just as those providers must do when working with their clients. But then I realized I needed to first discuss how the terms of the Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) sector can be a barrier to new users, yet how it is still important that we have our own terms. So I went to The Lexicon of Food for some crowd-sourced definitions, to the USDA site,  to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Community Commons for their definitions of the types of outlets or initiatives we use. I will add more definitions in later posts and also would love to hear any refinement that you think mine need.

Community supported agriculture (CSA): An up-front investment by a consumer into a farm that is “paid back” by that farm with a share of those goods during the harvest season(s). To me, this term is an example that desperately needs to be updated or at least specific types of CSAs clustered and named. After all, the name does not really tell you anything; it does not indicate they are outlets or even that they are part of direct to consumer channels. As a matter of fact, it really should be the name for ALL of the community food movement work! No wonder it is used to describe so many types of activities….

The original concept was that through buying a CSA membership, one entered into a partnership with a nearby farm and this cash infusion allows the farmer to pay for seed, water, equipment, and labor early in the season when farm expenses are high and farm income is low. I have had the great luck of touring the first CSA in the US (Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts) some years back and hearing the story and the collaboration that made it a CSA. I think that story and others like it should be a bigger part of the newly named types as it reflects its simple and elegant idea to directly support farmers through a most meaningful connection to individual neighbors and even a mutual dependency that is likely the most transformative for both producers and eaters among DTC outlets. 

The USDA definition: A farm or network/association of multiple farms that offer consumers regular (usually weekly) deliveries of locally-grown farm products during one or more harvest season(s) on a subscription or membership basis. 

-I think it is vital that within the definition of a CSA, it is understood that the funds are given directly to farmers, which makes it different than a market box (see below). What is also needed is shorthand to define and describe the customer interaction as CSAs now often include the delivery of the goods to a “hub” location where a local business or a CSA subscriber manages the handoff to the shareholders, more often called members. In previous iterations, on-farm pickup and quite often actual volunteer hours by members was expected by most CSA farms, but that is a rare occurrence now. Simon Huntley of Small Farms Central has clearly laid out a definition and possible future solutions for the CSA community here.

farmers markets: Since the 1970s, this term has been defined by farmers, organizers, and communities as a regularly occurring event where regionally-produced farm goods are sold directly by those who made or foraged the items. in 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had 8,717 farmers markets in their directory.

The apostrophe that once was used for this term has been largely dropped off as more communities organize them for a multitude of reasons and hoped-for outcomes, thereby sharing “ownership” of the market with the vendors. Like CSAs, the name is misused by some who are not offering the same direct relationship between the grower and the buyer, which is a purpose that is core to the mission of the majority of farmers markets. Some states have added definitions to their statutes in order to stomp out these fake markets. Like  CSAs, I think that markets need to make the case more clearly that they are organized* and are meant to address local conditions in farming, in economic sovereignty and in civic engagement. 

  • Recently, someone at USDA said to me, “As far as I can tell, the only characteristic that is shared across all farmers markets is that they are organized.” That struck me as quite true and yet it also struck me later that it may be the single characteristic least known or little understood about markets among consumers, potential stakeholders and sometimes even farmers.

It is possible that other iterations of markets may crop up, such as a version for intermediate buyers only (specialty stores, restaurant chefs) who need case prices and quantities that may be difficult to get through farmers markets as they are designed presently. If they do begin to crop up, it is possible that the market organization may become a facilitator not only in the design and management of the market itself but could offer a single invoicing system for all of the sales and then reimburse farmers more quickly. Those are likely to still be known as farmers markets, but may need an added descriptor such as a “by-the-case farmers market.” In those cases, the direct relationship between the buyer and the producer is still maintained but may need an added certification entity to oversee the delivery and marketing of those goods once the sale has been completed. 

In the most recent FMPP/LFPP cycle, my organization Farmers Market Coalition partnered with technology platform Farmspread to refine one such process where Local Food Authorities (LFAs) such as “grown here” or “buy fresh buy local” chapters would add to their promotion of local goods with an authentication of those who use the term local by first building  consensus on what local really means and then overseeing the certification of both local buyers and sellers, according to their level of agreement. Chapters are the most obvious form of LFAs- and farmers markets are included in most chapters – but farmers markets on their own may also be directly considered LFAs.

farm stand: also known as a roadside stand usually managed by a single farm business or maybe neighboring farms often in a set location with either some shelving and overhead protection or maybe a gravel space for vehicles. Unfortunately, in many states, a reseller of goods can use the term even if nothing is produced locally. 

In California, the definition has been refined and expanded and it seems that there are two kinds of farm stands: 1) a farm stand that does NOT sell value-added goods is now defined as a “field retail stand” and one that does sell value-added goods (including bottled water) is what is now known as a “retail food facility.”

Field retail stands are restricted to selling whole produce and shell eggs grown by the producer on or near the site, exempt from standard wholesale size and pack requirements. These traditional field stands are exempt from California Health and Safety Code, as long as they adhere to the previous set of rules.

Farm stands that make use of these new regulations—and sell anything other than fresh, farm-produced fruits, vegetables, nuts and shell eggs—are considered “retail food facilities,” and are therefore regulated by California Health and Safety Code. But requirements for farm stands are much less strict than those for most retail food facilities.

Food desert: The CDC defines this as areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet. More often these days, you see Low Access Areas or Low Supermarket Access used instead. To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).

-Note: A few years back, researchers at Tulane University here in our swampy New Orleans decided that the term “food swamp” was apter than food desert. Here is their explanation: “The caloric imbalance that leads to obesity is, of course, an issue about entire diets, not specific foods.  But the extensive amount of energy-dense offerings available at these venues may, in fact, inundate, or swamp out, what relatively few healthy choice foods there are.  Thus, we suggest that a more useful metaphor to be used is ‘food swamps‘ rather than food deserts.”

food hub: USDA definition: Offering a combination of aggregation, distribution, and marketing services at an affordable price, food hubs make it possible for many producers to gain entry into new larger-volume markets that boost their income and provide them with opportunities for scaling up production.

I’d add to that food hubs seem to have two characteristics in that they are always a physical location- and therefore have a chance for investment by private and public funders – and that they act as at least one or more of these things: an aggregator space for food items, an incubator for businesses and/or as a marketing hub or all of those and more. Therefore, the reality is there is a wide difference between food hubs.

I’d also like to raise the theory that the food hub movement was begun with such gusto because farmers markets have taken a long time to “professionalize” (don’t be defensive as I don’t mean markets are unprofessional, just that market organizations have not been able to attract long-range support for their staffing and structure needs and so many have remained in “start up mode” for years, even decades);  since investors have been unable to collect data to assess the impacts of farmers markets and/or because market organizations have limited management structures, food hubs were prioritized in some areas and by some funders.

Additionally, as many of you know, I assess the difference between local food efforts and regional food systems as being 1) lack of production infrastructure and 2) lack of policy advocacy by network leaders and 3) lack of attention to the specific needs of different groups of buyers, such as family table shoppers versus specialty store/bistro restaurants or even pallet wholesale buyers. That regional approach is where food hubs have done some serious work and where market organizations might want to stick a toe in the water so to speak.

I think a meeting of minds of food hubs and markets is overdue and in some cases might even be merged into one entity.

market box: An aggregated collection of seasonal items offered weekly or at least regularly either through a subscription through a farm or through the sales of an organization such as a market. The box supports sales for local farmers and often also a percentage is shared with the entity who manages the sales and the pickups. Often mislabeled as a CSA, but able to include new users for a shorter period of time and can be used to incentivize vendors at a “food security” market where less shoppers attend, but nearby institutions can accelerate the sales with a weekly markert box from the vendors. I first saw this idea in Los Angeles at one of SEE-LA’s markets which actually accelerated my organization’s thinking around crafting a market typology that continues to this day among some researchers. 

mobile market: I had a difficult time finding a definition of this, but did find a good one on Community Commons: Mobile markets are typically renovated trucks or trailers that carry fresh and healthy foods into urban communities. A mobile market may visit a neighborhood once a week or a few times a month on a set schedule. Many mobile markets accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, payments or have subsidies that make the food affordable to people with little or no income.

The mobile market term is one that I see loosely applied to many types of initiatives and often used interchangeably with farmers markets. Obviously, the mobile market shares some characteristics with the usual definition of farmers markets, including “pop up” locations, some collective authority of what is allowed, being organized  and the ability to use SNAP or other cards to purchase goods through one central terminal. What is less universal about mobile markets versus farmers markets is the localness of the food purchased and the type of programming on market day to increase intellectual capital and social cohesion.  Still, the mobile markets may offer those two previous points so as it stands today, the main difference between farmers markets and mobile markets is the direct part: producers are not present during the transactions of the mobile market.

Interestingly, the page that I accessed for this definition has many examples on it, but almost all of those links are broken, with many of those initiatives seemingly being redesigned or shelved for now.  One reason for the difficulty in maintaining mobile markets seems to be the ongoing funding for mobile markets, but also that some mobile marksts do their best to evolve into farmers markets or farm stands as soon as possible. 

By the way, this was my analysis when my organization attempted to collaboratively design one such mobile market after the 2005 levee breaks in New Orleans. 


Okay, I’m stopping here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

More to come…..











Catalyzing Health Care Investment in Healthier Food Systems 

Health Care Without Harm is undertaking a national study of non-profit hospitals’ community benefit practices to improve healthy food access and reduce risk of diet-related disease.

In this three-year project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Health Care Without Harm is conducting a national study of non-profit hospitals’ community benefit practices targeted to strengthening food system resilience and sustainability, improving physical and economic access to healthy foods, and promoting healthier dietary patterns and healthy body weight. Through a national survey, in-depth interviews, and case studies, the study will identify best hospital community benefit practices as well as model programs promoting sustainable and healthy food systems.

Survey invitations will be sent to a random sample of tax-exempt hospitals to learn about how hospitals include food insecurity, healthy food access, and diet-related health conditions in their community health needs assessments and implementation plans.  Findings will be made available through various learning networks, including Community Commons.


Bakers dozen of carbon mile trips

My Toronto colleague Wayne Roberts has written an excellent piece on the miles it takes to get food to you. Even though I can imagine how many of these that most of us have seen, this one really breaks it down so “civilians” can get the enormity. Another good piece to add to your market newsletter…


Record for billion-dollar weather disasters tied

Unfortunately, we in the agricultural biz are just going to have to get better at explaining disasters to our communities…

Record for billion-dollar weather disasters tied – Weather – msnbc.com.

Bad localvore story

In my mind, the story linked at the end of this post is like ending up the wrong side of the tracks in a regional food system: You’re viewing the poor part of it (in this case, in values) and maybe it’s wrong to see it as being part of the same place at all.
Trumpeting a man made water-reliant artificial system for growing what is known among the wild-caught fishers in my neck of the woods as “textured protein” rather than understanding that shrimp are creatures that are born and live in a complex free flowing water system, such as our estuaries around the Gulf of Mexico is dangerous wrong-side-of-the-tracks behavior.
And instead of pointing out that true localvores eat what is raised as part of their bioregion, this story extols the virtue of every food item available 24/7 in a desert.
I do have access to seafood and as a result of that bounty, live with the uncertainty of life on the edge of a massive waterway that is prone to hurricanes and dead zones from run off up North. I do have access to seafood, but go without fresh corn or stone fruit being available locally and only see those wonderful items when I travel to another food system. And that, to me, is the definition of a localvore.

Las Vegas story

Request for proposals for CFSC’s fall conference

“Food Justice:
Honoring our Roots, Growing the Movement” Community Food Security Coalition’s 15th Annual Conference Oakland, California November 5-8, 2011
Submit proposals online: here
Proposal Deadline: May 13, 2011
As you design your session, consider the following:
• We will prioritize creative and interactive sessions that provide opportunities for significant audience
participation, such as structured group activities, mapping or drawing, small group discussions, “think, pair, and share,” and dialogue circles.
• We encourage sessions that lead to a specific outcome, that are linked to the activities of the Community Food Security Coalition, and/or that build the community food security movement.
• “How to” and skill building workshops that provide ideas and tools will be prioritized.
• We encourage workshop organizers to include a diverse group of workshop leaders, such as youth, project participants, and community members.
• The number of people involved in food system related efforts is growing. We want to offer sessions for people new to the movement, as well as for people who have been involved in the food movement for a longer period of time. Both introductory and specialized workshops are welcome, as are sessions that would appeal to a broad spectrum of attendees.
• We urge presenters to avoid proposing workshops that highlight only a specific project or program. Instead, we suggest that you connect with colleagues from other organizations or communities to create a more comprehensive collaborative workshop. These workshops will be given priority during the review process.
• Technical Assistance for developing effective presentations will be available through the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Food and Society Fellowship. Details will be provided to leaders of the workshops chosen for the conference.
• All sessions will be 90 minutes in length. Expect approximately 30 – 75 attendees per session.
Expectations of Presenters
Presenters are required to submit all materials (powerpoints, tools, etc) used in the session prior to the conference for distribution to attendees.
The workshop leader must attend a conference orientation webinar prior to the conference.
CFSC is seeking proposals for two session formats:
These sessions are skill building,
educational, or informative in nature. We
encourage a participatory approach, but
presentations with adequate time for
discussion are acceptable.

Networking Sessions
Facilitated discussions designed to engage participants
in a discussion about a situation, challenge, or
strategy. While there will be a facilitator, all
participants are on equal footing. Presentations

HUFED newsletter

This list of some of the conferences happening soon is from the Wallace Center’s newsletter, which I encourage everyone to sign up for.


April 29 Homefront to Heartland: A Conference for Women in Agriculture; Nashville, TN

Conference topics include marketing and financing, advocacy tools, diet and utilizing new technology.

May 5 National Good Food Network (NGFN) Webinar on Fair Food

Register for the upcoming NGFN webinar where Oran Hesterman, President and CEO of Fair Food Network, will discuss his soon-to-be-released book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy Sustainable Food System for All from 3:30-4:45pm EST.

May 5 Local and Sustainable Meat & Poultry: Making the Shift in Institutional Purchasing; Clarksville, MD

This regional conference will bring together a variety of stakeholders to identify barriers and possible solutions and strategies for establishing new institutional purchasing practices for local sustainable beef, pork and poultry. The conference will be held from 7:30am – 3:00pm at the Ten Oaks Ballroom and Conference Center in Clarksville, Maryland. An agenda is coming soon. This initiative is funded by a grant from the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) within USDA Agricultural Marketing Service with matching funds from the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers.

May 19-21 Community Food Security Coalition Conference; Portland, OR

The CFSC’s “Food Policy from Neighborhood to Nation” conference will include field trips, short courses and workshops focused on local and state level food policy issues.

May 31 Healthy Corner Store Network Webinar “Low-cost strategies for Bringing Healthier Foods into Small-scale Stores”

This webinar, sponsored by the Community Food Security Coalition, will be held May 31 from 1:00 pm – 2:15pm EST and cover low-cost methods for introducing, displaying and promoting healthy foods in corner stores and other small-scale retail stores.

June 6 Illinois Public Health Association Sustainable Food Systems Workshop; Lombard, Illinois

The Food and Nutrition Section of the Illinois Public Health Association (IPHA) will host a workshop at their 2011 IPHA Annual Meeting, “Sustainable Food Systems Building the Foundation for Prepared Communities.” The keynote speaker will be John W. Boyd, Jr. President of the National Black Farmers Association, and a panel discussion will cover international food systems and Illinois statewide food issues.

June 2-4 School Food FOCUS Annual Conference “Transforming School Food” Denver, Colorado

At this three day conference at the Inverness Hotel in Denver, participants will “tour Denver schools, gardens, and other food facilities, learn about the new School Food FOCUS Strategic Plan, discover best practices and learnings from the field, meet and sample food during the School Food Showcase from vendors providing wholesome options for school food service, including Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, collaborate in workshops and roundtables that get to the heart of food systems change, participate in a dialogue with USDA representatives, a unique chance to voice concerns and be heard, become familiar with emerging regional school food hubs across the country”.

October 3-4 Consumer Federation of America National Food Policy Conference; Washington, DC

The National Food Policy Conference is for those involved in agriculture, and food and nutrition policy to explore the critical food policy issues with policymakers, advocates and scientists. Major speakers include cabinet members and leaders on food and agriculture policy on Capitol Hill.

November 4-8 Community Food Security Coalition’s 15th Annual Conference; Oakland, CA

This four day food systems networking and educational event will include presentations, workshops, networking opportunities, local grown food, and field trips around the San Francisco Bay area.

November 8-11 Policy Link’s Equity Summit 2011; Detroit, MI

Registration is now open for Policy Link’s Equity Summit “Healthy Communities, Strong Regions, A Prosperous America” to discuss sustainable and equitable development and the relationship between access to jobs, transportation, education, health, and housing.

November 11-12 Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Annual Conference; Albany, NY

NESAWG, a network of 12 Northeastern states that focuses on regional food system development, will have their annual “It Takes a Region” conference that will draw on the success of their 2009 & 2010 conferences to discuss distribution logistics, research, messaging, access & nutrition, and advocacy in relation to the 2012 Farm Bill.