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Publication #AEC 384

Community Food Security and UF/IFAS Extension1

A.E. Adams, N.T. Place, M.E. Swisher, and Kelly Monaghan2


The modern food system in the United States is a complex, internationally connected network of industries and markets that is continuously changing and growing to meet the needs of its consumers. Cooperative Extension Service educational programs work to meet the needs of both producers and consumers in food systems in the United States and around the world. Extension is constantly evolving, adapting, and improving its educational programs so that clientele are empowered to address their issues or problems. The United States Department of Agriculture, the federal partner of Extension, recognized a specific need in the field of agriculture and food systems by adding the Community Food Security Act to the 1996 Farm Bill. The purpose of this paper is to define community food security and identify its importance for extension agents in Florida.

Figure 1. 

A consumer peruses produce available at a farmers market.


Catalin Petolea/iStock/Thinkstock, © Catalin Petolea

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Community Food Security

Community food security is defined as “a situation in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice” (Hamm & Bellows, 2003, p. 37). There are seven components that are represented in this definition of community food security: food access, food safety, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, local food systems, culturally acceptable food, and social justice.

Community Food Security and Extension

Extension educators have an important role in working with their communities to build an effective food system through educational programming and stakeholder interaction. The concept of community food security deals with many aspects of the food system and with community involvement in the food system. The University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a commitment to increasing community food security across the state. UF/IFAS Extension developed a roadmap for the years 2013 to 2023 based on extensive stakeholder input gathered from all 67 counties (UF/IFAS Extension, 2013). The roadmap outlines five “super issues” citizens agree are the most pressing challenges and needs facing the state today. The first of those issues is “the awareness and appreciation of our food systems and our environment.” Programming to address the super issues is guided by seven “high-priority initiatives”:

  1. Increasing the sustainability, profitability, and competitiveness of agricultural and horticultural enterprises.

  2. Enhancing and protecting water quality, quantity, and supply.

  3. Enhancing and conserving Florida’s natural resources and environmental quality.

  4. Producing and conserving traditional and alternative forms of energy.

  5. Empowering individuals and families to build healthy lives and achieve social and economic success.

  6. Strengthening urban and rural community resources and economic development.

  7. Preparing youth to be responsible citizens and productive members of the workforce.

Each of these initiatives has a statewide goal team divided into specific focus areas dedicated to addressing the initiative at the local level. The seven main concepts of community food security and UF/IFAS Extension’s roadmap are highly congruent. The National Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (NIFA) provides some federal funds to the Florida Cooperative Extension Service and shares this commitment to addressing community food security in five of their priority science areas. Table 1 illustrates the relationship between community food security concepts, the NIFA priority science areas, and UF/IFAS Extension's statewide goals and focus area teams.

Implications for Extension

Community food security is an issue of concern in the United States. Extension services across the country are already engaged in addressing community food security issues. Based on the relationship between community food security and UF/IFAS Extension’s high-priority initiatives, this paper suggests that Extension agents explore two possibilities for improving community food security-based programs: 1) inter-departmental or inter-organizational collaborations, and 2) assessments for community food security needs.


The opportunity to build collaborations and inter-organizational partnerships between extension and other community food security organizations in the community is not only available, it is relevant and can help UF/IFAS Extension meet the needs and interests of its clientele. UF/IFAS Extension's responsibility is to allocate resources and create opportunities for Extension agents to effectively address clientele needs. Collaborations with community organizations can be an excellent resource for addressing community issues specifically related to community food security.

There are many organizations in Florida that work to address community food security issues and community development. Farmers markets, food banks, community gardens, and educational outreach organizations are just a few examples. Extension educators also work toward community development, citizen empowerment and education for community members so they can make informed decisions. Holland (2004) suggests that integrating sustainability projects with community development efforts can facilitate both community participation and citizen empowerment. In addition, the USDA’s Community Food Security Initiative encourages collaborations between government and nonprofit organizations (Thomson et al., 2004).

UF/IFAS Extension should explore the possibilities for partnerships with local and community organizations in order to assist Extension agents in effectively addressing community food security issues. In doing so, UF/IFAS Extension can function not only to address individual issues, but also to improve the condition of the community in which it serves. Hancock (2001) suggests that collaborations on projects that focus on sustainability and ecology, such as community gardens, would work to strengthen communities, both socially and environmentally. In this way, partnerships with UF/IFAS Extension could work not only to address community food security issues, but also to strengthen economies, ecologies, and social capital in their counties.

Figure 2. 

There are many organizations in Florida that work to address community food security issues and community development.


mangostock/iStock/Thinkstock, © mangostock

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Needs Assessments

Needs assessments are one of the tools Extension agents use to determine the needs, issues, and concerns within their counties and communities. Extension agents in Florida conduct needs assessments in their communities to gain a better understanding their clientele's community food security needs. Needs assessments help Extension agents direct community food security programming toward community members that need it the most. Extension educators must be aware of the needs of their clientele and of their clientele’s culture and background. In this way, a needs assessment can assist Extension agents in utilizing their time and programming resources in the most effective way possible.

Needs assessments allow Extension agents to examine community food security in a geographical community or neighborhood. The agents should examine each of the seven components of community food security when facilitating a needs assessment.

For example, agents need to find out if community members are having a hard time getting to the grocery store, if there is a problem with spoiled or improperly cooked food in the community, if people are having a hard time locating culturally acceptable foods, or if employers are treating food system workers unfairly.

Extension agents can conduct community food security needs assessments in their counties through focus groups, community forums, surveys, and listening sessions. These types of interactions with community clientele can also help agents improve existing educational programs by gaining a better understanding of clients' needs and issues. Agents can learn about different groups in an area or county by asking questions and getting immediate feedback on issues clientele are facing.

The USDA Economic Research Service has created a Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit to assist local service providers in facilitating a needs assessment. The toolkit includes data collection instruments for various measures of food security. The toolkit can be accessed at


UF/IFAS Extension agents routinely deal with issues that pertain to the concept of community food security. The purpose of this paper was to establish the link between UF/IFAS Extension's goals and the elements of community food security. Extension agents can improve existing efforts to meet clientele’s community food security needs in two ways. First, they can collaborate with other departments or organizations that are addressing similar issues within the community. These collaborations enable Extension agents to design more effective educational programs, or reach new or nontraditional clientele. Second, they can conduct community food security–focused needs assessments. These assessments are designed specifically to identify community food needs. These two methods are just two ways in which UF/IFAS Extension agents can help reach UF/IFAS Extension goals and serve their communities in the most effective way possible.


Hamm, M. W., & Bellows, A. C. (2003). Community food security and nutrition educators. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 35(1), 37–43.

Hancock, T. (2001). People, partnerships and human progress: Building community capital. Health Promotion International, 16(3), 275–280.

Holland, L. (2004). Diversity and connections in community gardens: A contribution to local sustainability. Local Environment, 9(3), 285–305.

Thomson, J. S., Radhakrishna, R. B., & Inciong, L. (2004, May). Extension educators perspectives on local food system issues: Implications for extension research and programming. Paper presented at the 31st National Agriculture Education Research Conference, St. Louis, MO.

UF/IFAS Extension (2013). Shaping solutions for Florida’s future: The UF/IFAS Extension roadmap 2013-2023. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved June 4, 2014 from


Table 1. 

Corresponding community food security concepts and extension focus areas.

CFS Key Concept

Relevant NIFA Priority Science Area

UF/IFAS Statewide Goals and Focus Area Teams

Food Access

Food Security and Hunger

Agriculture, Natural Resource and Food Systems

FA*3: Processing, Distribution, Safety, and Security of Food Systems

Food Safety

Food Security and Hunger

Food Safety

Agriculture, Natural Resource and Food Systems

FA3: Processing, Distribution, Safety, and Security of Food Systems

Individual and Family Development

FA3: Health, Nutrition, and Food Safety


Childhood Obesity

Individual and Family Development

FA1: Personal and Family Well-being

FA3: Health, Nutrition, and Food Safety

Sustainable Agriculture

Food Safety

Climate Change

Agriculture, Natural Resource and Food Systems

FA1: Agricultural and Natural Resource Profitability and the Sustainable Use of Environmental Resources

Florida’s Environment

FA1: Water Resources

FA2: Sustainable Use of Freshwater and Terrestrial Ecosystems

FA5: Climate Variability and Change

Local/Community Food Systems

Food Security and Hunger

Agriculture, Natural Resource, and Food Systems

F1: Agricultural and Natural Resource Profitability and the Sustainable Use of Environmental Resources (especially small farms and alternative enterprises)

Sustainable Living

FA3: Economic Development

Culturally Acceptable Food



Social Justice



*FA=focus area, statewide goals are in italics



This document is AEC 384, one of a series of the Agricultural Education and Communication Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 2007. Revised June 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


A. E. Adams, PhD candidate, Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law; N. T. Place, dean and director for Extension; M. E. Swisher, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Kelly Monaghan, PhD candidate, School of Natural Resources and Environment, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.