Seeding Insights and Nourishing Change: a Case for Participatory Evaluation in Place-Based Community Food Systems


In the United States, achieving equitable food security requires innovative system-level solutions that address complex intersecting factors. Food insecurity is intricately connected to poverty and access to food, and has short- and long-term impacts on individual health, quality of life, and healthcare costs. Fostering food security demands innovation: new collaborations, approaches, and fresh measurement models that can address food insecurity at a systems level. Through a sophisticated place-based approach, Full Lives is a complex but promising food security community impact grantmaking strategy that leverages the resources of different partners, organizations, and components of the food supply within a concentrated geographical area. Furthermore, transformation of a community’s food system requires a combination of technical knowledge and authentic community engagement in order to effectively yield and measure community change. This case study provides an in-depth look at:

  • How grant makers can work in partnership with a diverse set of non-profit organizations in developing solutions;

  • Co-creation of a community engaged food security program evaluation characterized by shared measurement of community-level indicators;

  • Strengths, challenges and limitations of a community-engaged approach to food security program evaluation.

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  1. 1.

    Food deserts”: It is important to note that up until 2018, census tracts that were both low-income and low-access (defined as being far from a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store) were defined by the USDA Economic Research Service, and often referred to across the field, as “food deserts”. The USDA has since stopped using the term, calling their data tool the “Food Access Research Atlas.” GTCUW supports efforts to move away from the term. Additionally, in its work, GTCUW has found that the negative connotation of the word desert discounts the history, diversity, and complexities of the communities that reside in these areas. In this brief and subsequent materials, GTCUW avoids the term “food deserts” in describing neighborhoods challenged by food insecurity.


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The Full Lives initiative reflects a powerful story about the collective work of many partners working to impact the local food system in North Minneapolis and Twin Cities communities. The strategies and outcomes described in this case article are a result of shared efforts of organizations and stakeholders working to strengthen North Minneapolis’ community food system. GTCUW is deeply appreciative of the collective involvement, contributions, and support of so many partners that made the work of Full Lives possible, including:

General Mills Foundation: Mary Jane Melendez, Nicola Dixon, Louise Iverson, and Meredith Kruger Kos.

Greater Twin Cities United Way: Alyssa Banks, Megan O’Meara, Julie Ogunleye, Ellen Nikodym, Olivia Jefferson, Isabella Xiong, Kiese Hansen, Jaci Donlan, Jennifer Krocak, Anne Soto.

Full Lives Grantees and Partners: Appetite for Change and the Northside Fresh Coalition, CAPI, Northpoint Health and Wellness, Northside Economic Opportunities Network (NEON), Pillsbury United Communities, Project Sweetie Pie, Urban Strategies, Victory Neighborhood Association, West Broadway Business Area Coalition, Youth Resources, Wilder Foundation. Rainbow Research: Rebecca Saito, Misty Blue, Mary McEathron; Terra Soma, LLC: Maggi Adamek, Nadja Berneche; Movement Center for Deep Democracy, Julie Murphy and Associates and so many more of the community partners, businesses and residents that helped to make this work possible.

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Correspondence to Alyssa Banks.

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Banks, A., Saito, R., Berneche, N. et al. Seeding Insights and Nourishing Change: a Case for Participatory Evaluation in Place-Based Community Food Systems. Int. Journal of Com. WB (2021).

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  • Place-based
  • Community indicators
  • Participatory evaluation
  • Community food systems
  • Food security
  • Food justice