By Suzanne Simpson & Joshua Frye

The 'Three Es’ are—Economy, Environment, and Equity—each vital ingredients in a truly sustainable food system: 



Communities can embrace unique and vibrant political, economic, and cultural facets in their bioregion's food system. This includes identifying, bringing together, and collaborating with local government, businesses, educational entities, the agricultural community, food advocacy groups, culinary arts programs, food markets, educational and religious entities, non-profits, and medical communities. 


A healthy environment is dependent on a sustainable food system. Biodiversity can be regenerated by raising healthy produce and animals for meat, eggs, and dairy, emphasizing heirloom varieties and regenerative and ethical practices. Small-scale integrated polyculture (rather than the unsustainable monocultures of the industrial food system) fosters resiliency in the face of climate change, incorporating citizen engagement and participation. Key stakeholders can create opportunities for innovative partnerships that will increase access to the quality and value of local food growth and production across the food chain.


A sustainable food system is an equitable one – everyone should be able to access and enjoy it. Food justice can be fostered by forming collaborative partnerships between local farmers and food banks, honoring indigenous diets and traditions, providing education on food costs and label transparency, and creating opportunities for people to grow their own food in communal spaces. Everyone has the right to eat well! Including all voices in local decision making is a key component in food sovereignty. 

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Below is a simple guide to help all who are interested in creating or strengthening a healthy food system in their community. We hope this provides you with clear steps to take, to encourage communities to start making positive changes in their local food systems. Whether you live in a city, town, or rural area, you can dig in and grow locally!


Steps Toward a Vibrant Local Food System

  • Start small!
  • Research other communities that grow local food and borrow from their expertise and successful ideas – no need to recreate the wheel!
  • Make a list of your present and potential assets as well as challenges
  • Identify stakeholders and what they can contribute in terms of talent, time, and money
  • Bring a coalition of like-minded people in your community together to start discussions of what is needed.
  • Collaborate with your city and county officials as well as community leaders, schools, and professional organizations
  • Hold community meetings to bring together interested individuals, community members clubs, business people, etc.
  • Make a simple plan with a reasonable timeline
  • Identify and create committees
  • Brainstorm ways to capture and keep community interest – be able to articulate what’s in it for them, and why this is beneficial for everyone
  • Develop or strengthen programs to support both existing and beginning farmers and gardeners – think collaboratively! 
  • Identify potential farm and garden properties and resources, including potential organic land, land that needs soil remediation, water sources, city or town permits for agriculture, drainage and costs
  • Plant!
  • Grow!
  • Harvest!
  • Share!
  • Start a Food Policy Council that includes county and city officials, farmers, orchardists, business people, etc. (Check out our list of food policy councils)

Growing healthy food, grows healthy people that builds healthy communities


Potential Gardening Sites

  • Office Buildings
  • Vacant Lots
  • Sidewalk medians
  • Indoor hoop gardens
  • Hydroponic gardens
  • Aquaponic farms
  • Schools
  • Businesses
  • Lawns
  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Churches and Synagogues
  • Community Centers

Potential Funding Sources

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Local business
  • Banks
  • Schools
  • Churches
  • Community groups
  • Hospitals
  • Youth ag organizations like FFA and 4-H
  • Local farmers and agriculture organizations
  • Community foundations, and clubs such as Lions Club, Rotary, etc.
  • Local, state and national foundations
  • Local city, county and state funding 


Getting Gardens Started

  • Test soil and do necessary remediation
  • Fencing
  • Water
  • Tool shed and tools
  • Community gathering spots for food events, demos, talks, sharing, etc.
  • What to charge for a community garden plot? Consider shared cost of resources needed



  • Build a communication system, Facebook, website, etc.
  • Write a monthly newsletter, articles, take photos, video clips, get quotes from excited community members. 
  • Encourage people to participate in creating home and community gardens, and give them reasons to support their local food system
  • Create local food-based festivals and special events where people can gather together to eat, connect, share, and have fun!



Learn how to establish a Food Policy Council in your local community, or learn how to engage with a policy council that is already there.