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Community Food System and Enterprises

A food system includes the production, processing, distribution, sales, purchasing, preparation, consumption, and waste disposal pathways of food. Community food systems seek to make transactions between these pathways more localized (versus global).  Increasing direct connections with producers and consumers is a sound asset-based social and economic development strategy for rural and urban communities. From an economic perspective, encouraging the buying and consumption of local foods can have a positive impact on the local economy by recirculating and reinvesting dollars in local independent businesses.    

There are also potential health benefits for consumers. In 2002, the Virginia Center for Healthy Communities reported 24 percent of adult Virginians were obese and 35 percent were overweight. Virginia has the fourteenth highest obesity-related healthcare costs in the 50 states and direct obesity attributable healthcare costs reached over $1.6 billion in 2003.  

Marketing the virtues of locally grown food to consumers can potentially increase consumption of fruits and veggies. Health and nutrition professionals have emphasized that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can optimize good health and significantly reduce the rate of diet-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and the overall incidence of cancer by 20%, and result in reduced health care costs and increased life expectancy. 

A vision to reintroduce Virginians to agriculture and fresh nutritious foods as part of a vibrant innovative community-based food system can help address these societal issues and complement the work of health and nutrition professionals. This vision to reintroduce consumers to agriculture and link health, food, and farming for a sustainable future will require the leadership and dedication of entrepreneurial farmers, food business owners, community-based work groups, government officials, and the research and education community at local, regional, and state levels.  

 Key components of a vibrant, innovative community food system include the following:

  • A compelling vision with specific goals and a strategic plan that builds on history, a sense of place, local identity, and community values
  • Social, ecological, farmland, and financial resources
  • Communication and community collaboration
  • A diverse network of committed producers and farms to meet local and regional needs;
  • Multiple markets and farm-to-table infrastructure
  • Education, research assistance, and informational support for producers and consumers
  • Supportive public policies of food and farm innovation to benefit rural and urban communities and economies

The Community Viability program supports community food systems and has worked to facilitate conversations with stakeholders across the state.  These conversations have given rise to community-based projects that are helping keep agriculture profitable and consumers healthy.

To learn more about Community Viability programs and assistance concerning community food systems, consult the resources available in the Community Food System Resource Directory or Ask an Expert

Community Food System Resource Directory (PDF | 122KB)