Cultivating community food systems

State Project Coordinator:
Contact Bill McKelvey

View Resources

In partnership with communities across the state, Missouri EATs helps connect local stakeholders to build and strengthen their community’s food system. Missouri EATs is a community development process designed to engage people to identify local assets and needs; help them develop a plan to act on their top priorities; and make lasting changes to transform their local food system. Missouri EATs is a creation of the MU Extension Community Economic Development Food Systems Team. It is adapted with permission from the Oregon Food Bank’s FEAST program.

The broad goal of Missouri EATs is to create healthy, resilient and equitable community-based food systems. The starting point is a community-wide forum for participants to engage in an informed and facilitated discussion about the food system. This event is the first step of a larger community organizing process that engages communities to make positive changes over time. The format allows for broad discussions related to local agriculture, hunger, health and related topics and relies heavily on local input from community members in general and those representing local businesses and agencies.

Given the open nature of Missouri EATs, specific outcomes are difficult to predict. Communities involved as Missouri EATs pilots have brought together stakeholders to plan for an urban agriculture center, apply for grants, initiate farmers markets, expand community gardens, and better coordinate emergency food services. MU Extension Specialists have experience in supporting these types of efforts and will work with communities throughout the process to help address the various needs that arise.

Here are several important considerations for groups thinking about being involved in Missouri EATs:

Because a community’s local food system involves all the people, processes, and places involved with moving food from farmers’ fields to local farmers markets, stores, restaurants, and dinner tables, we encourage groups to think broadly about how they draw the borders of their community. For example, it can be helpful to define your community based on its foodshed, a term borrowed from the concept of a watershed, which highlights the interdependence of urban and rural, town and country, and the ways that people and places are connected regardless of city or county borders. In this example, Missouri EATs might be centered in city but also include farmers, agencies, organizations, and citizens from the surrounding area.

While each community is different, we expect most to use the following timeline after the initial idea of Missouri EATs is discovered or presented:

  • Pre-planning (1-3 months): Understanding what Missouri EATs is, what is involved, and who is interested taking part (including identifying a Local Lead Partner). Other tasks may include defining the community, discussing roles and responsibilities, and referencing the Missouri EATs Application and Readiness Tool.
  • Planning (2-4 months): Forming a Local Leadership Team (LLT); completing the Missouri EATs Application and Readiness Tool; establishing roles and responsibilities; putting plans in place for the kick-off event including recruitment, outreach, and communications; discussion of ongoing activities, involvement, and schedules after the kick-off event.
  • Initiation and follow-through (20-24 months): From the time of the kick-off event, we anticipate groups will commit two years to seeing the process through. This includes time for the creation of a Food System Action Plan and the formation of work-groups centered on three to four priority areas outlined in the plan. Then, time will be needed for the work-groups to get to work to gather resources and initiate programs or policies to meet their goals. We recommend that the larger group reconvene one year from the original kick-off event to share updates, successes, and challenges. This is also a good time to revisit the plan, make any needed changes or additions, reshuffle work-groups, and recommit to moving forward.

Experience shows that it is important to build a good team before fully launching Missouri EATs. This will include creating a list of potential Local Leadership Team members who possess one or more of the following qualities:

  • Interest in what you are doing
  • Connections to bring people and resources to the effort
  • Skills to make it happen

It will also be important to consider people from diverse backgrounds, professions, and affiliations to ensure that different viewpoints are included.

Once the Local Leadership Team is formed, the group should spend some time getting to know one another, do some assessment of the local food system, and think about their vision for the community, noting that more input will be provided by the larger community once the program is up and running.

We recommended that groups cast a wide net to include a broad spectrum of food system stakeholders and participants. For the more selective Local Leadership Team (six to 10 members), think about who is willing to work together and commit the time. For the community-wide forum, you’ll want to include those who have a strong passion and commitment to food efforts and people who may not already be involved but are looking for ways to contribute. Potential partners include local non-profits and community-based organizations; statewide or national non-profits; food producers (farmers, ranchers, etc.); faith-based organizations; ethnic and cultural associations; government agencies (local, state, national including key departments such as public health, sustainability, planning and zoning, and economic development); schools, youth groups and parent groups; colleges and universities; elected officials and their staff; commissions and advisory groups; and businesses, including the chambers of commerce.

Establishing clear roles and responsibilities among project partners is key to making Missouri EATs run smoothly. The primary partners include MU Extension (Community Engagement Specialist and State Team), the Local Lead Partner, and the Local Leadership Team.

The MU Extension Extension & Engagement Specialist, in partnership with a Local Lead Partner (LLP), will co-lead Missouri EATs and share responsibility for the following activities:

  • Form Local Leadership Team (LLT) and involve team in helping with various tasks
  • Complete Missouri EATs Application and Readiness Tool
  • Plan and co-facilitate forum
  • Plan for post-forum follow-up activities including meetings, events, communications, establishing timeline, etc.
  • Administer evaluations and follow-up surveys
  • Submit reports to State Team and participate in monthly conference calls as needed

The MU Extension Missouri EATs State Team will be responsible for the following activities:

  • Review Missouri EATs Application and Readiness Tool
  • Provide support for implementing Missouri EATs including identifying potential partners, speakers, and attendees; developing content and presentations; and addressing questions that arise
  • Create evaluations and follow-up surveys; collect and analyze data; share information with Specialist and Local Lead Partner
  • Host monthly conference call

The Local Leadership Team (LLT) is comprised of five to 10 individuals from the community who are willing to assist with planning and running Missouri EATs. Members should be willing to help with various tasks and chair committees as needed. Typical LLT responsibilities include the following:

  • Participate in Missouri EATs Application and Readiness Tool
  • Assist with planning forum
  • Provide leadership for various work groups that arise from the Food System Action Plan
  • Volunteer for various tasks including the following:
    • Communications: Sending meeting reminders, preparing news stories and information for key stakeholders and community leaders, updating social media
    • Logistics: Finding meeting locations and arranging equipment needs, meals, and refreshments
    • Recruitment and outreach: Identifying key participants to ensure diversity
    • Documentation: Recording and sharing notes, recording forums if needed

The essential parts of a whole-day forum include the following:
(Please note: Communities may also choose to do a half-day, lunch hour, or online forum.)

  • The local picture is described through panel presentations and discussions.
  • The language and tools of community food systems are described and discussed, including concepts such as community food security and community food assessment.
  • Food system priorities are listed through brainstorming and visioning.
  • A meal is shared.
  • Participants engage in small working groups to better define priorities.
  • A Food System Action Plan is created to address the priorities.

The Food System Action Plan is a tool used to keep communities engaged after the event and guide their ongoing effort. Communities may choose to hold a combination of small working group meetings, community meals, or quarterly meetings to keep things moving in a positive direction. Annual meetings are encouraged to provide updates and reengage community members.

A community’s investment will come in various forms. First, it is important to recognize that communities will be investing their time and effort to make Missouri EATs happen. MU Extension’s role, along with the Local Lead Partner, is to provide the framework for the community to provide input, create an action plan, and work through the action plan. MU Extension has the community development expertise to make this happen and can support Missouri EATs with a variety of experts and programs during the follow-up stages. However, the community will be doing the work to identify the community’s assets and needs, putting pencil to paper, and making things happen. Likewise, the Local Lead Partner and Local Leadership Team will be investing their time and effort to help plan, initiate, and carry-out Missouri EATs.

In addition to time and effort, communities are expected to make other in-kind contributions that may include providing facilities and meeting rooms, meals and snacks, office supplies, and administrative support, among other things.

Finally, there may sometimes be a financial cost to participate in Missouri EATs. If this is the case, the cost may be covered through registration fees from the kick-off event, sponsorships, or grants.

The specific outcomes of Missouri EATs are hard to predict and will depend on who is involved, their willingness and ability to work together, and the resources that can be garnered to make things happen. Apart from seeing any specific, on-the-ground outcomes, success includes the following:

  • People can understand what Missouri EATs is, how it works, and what is possible.
  • Stakeholders develop positive working relationships, learn to find common ground, and better understand the strengths and challenges of their local food system.
  • The voices of community members from diverse backgrounds are included.
  • A successful kick-off event occurs that leads to the creation of a Food System Action Plan.
  • Effort is made to work the plan, seek out resources, and initiate programs and policies.

For more information, please contact Bill McKelvey, State Project Coordinator for Missouri EATs at

food systems diagram
Missouri EATs: Cultivating Community Food Systems

Missouri EATs now offers a publication intended for program/project leaders.