Conclusions, Recommendations, and Next Steps



General Conclusions

Throughout the course of our project, we came to three general conclusions.

1. Food is a good lens for discussing the community economy.  It provides a common ground for people to share their experiences, ideas, and frustrations, and to spark discussion and conversations about the current challenges in the conventional economic framework.

2. Popular education is a good tool for engaging people in their food economy.  Participants in our workshop pilots learned a lot, illustrating the usefulness and importance of engaging different learning styles, as the “learning heads” metaphor explains in our popular education theoretical background section.

3. There is potential in this project to provide new information and to empower people to make the food system more just and sustainable. The Practical Visionaries Workshop team and Steering Committee members will continue this work into the Summer of 2013, and will make use of the recommendations and next steps detailed below.

In addition to our general conclusions, we also discovered more specific themes from piloting our tools, FEET and Workshop 1. These themes led us to make revisions and recommendations for next steps for our Steering Committee members. Although not technically piloted, the creation of our Food Economy Maps also led to some interesting conclusions and recommendations for next steps.



Food Economy Engagement Tool (FEET)


  • FEET piloted during the first two weeks of April 2013:  We recruited participants through our Steering Committee, the Practical Visionaries Workshop, Field Projects and UEP peers, and other campus and community-based groups.
  • Distributed approximately 40 FEET: 11 were returned completely filled out, 3 had two of four parts (pre-log survey questions and log) filled out, and 3 had only the log filled out

Pilot themes:  

  • Many people were surprised at how much they spent at certain locations, i.e. coffee shops/cafes or restaurants
  • Personal priorities were not always reflected in purchasing due to access issues

Revisions based on pilot feedback:

  • Store and food categories – defined more clearly.  Feedback illustrated some confusion between a few store and food categories.  To remedy this we have added examples and more clear definitions within the pre-log survey and the food purchasing log.
  • Priorities/motivations – made consistent between pre-log survey and log.  Some participants noted difficulty comparing their pre-log survey answers to their log answers due to inconsistencies between choices, and an inability to rank order their priorities in the pre-log survey (priorities were check-off boxes in FEET pilot pre-log survey).  We made the choices consistent between the pre-log survey and log, and also revised the pre-log survey question about priorities so participants can now rank their top 3, which we hope will make reflections more valuable.

Recommendations and next steps:

  • Summer 2013:  Working further with Steering Committee members, possibly youth. We expect that Summer work will make use of the following recommendations for next steps.
  • Length/setup of tool: We believe that the length of the tool may have been slightly intimidating to some participants, as feedback from SC members and number of completed surveys returned reflected.  We recommend shortening the post-log reflection questions to three, and encouraging participation in Workshop 1 to delve deeper into personal reflections and begin dialogue with others about the food economy.
  • Re-focus and/or finely tune reflection questions: Some feedback responses point to the need to look more closely at reflection questions to decide where focus should lie – in how much is spent, where it is spent, or both.  We believe this is something each Steering Committee member can decide for their own constituents, as this data will ultimately support their actions for creating a more just and sustainable local food economy.
  • Include local or non-locally owned categories: Some pilot participants were interested to learn more about and discuss their purchases in terms of whether they were shopping at locally-owned or non-locally owned businesses.  We believe this is very important and insightful information to include in future discussions about the food economy, and encourage those working on revising FEET in the Summer to incorporate these themes.
  • Digital platform: We have had a chance to spark local interest around increasing participation through a digital platform.  A website and smartphone application, as complements to the current paper-based version, could be developed in the coming months by community partners.  Stay tuned!



Popular Education Curriculum


  • Workshop 1 piloted at Cultivating a New Food Economy Summit on April 13th, 2013
  • One hour session included 3 activities (Warm Up, Purchasing Power, and Reflection discussion)
  • 47 participants

Pilot themes:

  • The workshop was effective at meeting the goals of encouraging self reflection on food purchasing habits and beginning a dialogue about the food economy
  • The workshop activities encouraged great discussion about themes within food economy such as: food purchasing behavior, impacts of access and infrastructure on food purchasing, motivations and values that influence food choice, and the need for more education

Revisions based on pilot feedback:

  • Categories: Additional categories were added to the Purchasing Power activity and examples were given to help clarify each category.
  • Questions: Additional questions were added to the Purchasing Power reflection section to encourage discussion about the type of food being purchased, the representative nature of the group and the circulation of money from food businesses into the community.
  • Time: Time was added to the Purchasing Power and Reflection discussion. The overall workshop time was increased to 1.5 hours.

Recommendations and next steps:

  • Incorporate FEET into Workshop 1
  • Complete Workshops 2 and 3
  • Pilot full Workshop 1 with participant group that is representative of Steering Committee organizations

For a more detailed data analysis and conclusions from pilot workshop evaluations click here.



Food Economy Maps


The Food Economy Maps created with both GIS technology and Google Fusion show the level of economic activity in the food system in the neighborhoods served by the Steering Committee. Both the static and dynamic maps can be useful in community analysis, and can be a springboard for discussing the cultivation of a more robust community food economy in the area.

While these maps should be updated and may include more parameters (related to job quality, income levels, household size, etc.), the current information on food sector businesses, annual sales, and number of jobs provides a solid jumping-off point for summer work.

Recommendations & Next Steps

1. Develop, Complete and Run Workshop 2:

The 2013 Practical Visionaries Field Project Team has begun to develop the framework for Workshop 2, part of the popular education curriculum series, that will incorporate these maps into group discussion about the food economy. We recommend that summer work include continuing to develop, complete and run this workshop.

2. Add Community Data to the Community Economy Map:

As a part of Workshop 2, community members will analyze six food economy maps. The workshop should also focus on gathering data from community members through FEET and/or other Workshop 2 activities in order to create a map that is representative of localized food economy activities. Directions for developing this map are in the Google Fusion User’s Guide.

3. Create Labor Map:

There is great value in understanding the quality and types of jobs held in the food sector. We recommend that data be collected and analyzed with regard to the types of food-related jobs, the wages, benefits and injuries on the job in order to gain a better understanding of food sector workforce. This data will likely be available through the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.  Our efforts to represent the quality of food sector jobs was limited by zip-code level data – we recommend that the summer work focus on more localized data and/or more specific food business categories to learn about the food sector jobs available. Furthermore, the Reference USA data collected merged the payroll/benefits data for food sector businesses. Additional research should be conducted to separate these datasets and calculate wages/salaries and benefits for each worker, food system category, and neighborhood and/or zip code.

4. Organize and Use Expanded Data:

The maps currently display aggregated data by zip code. This data is also available from the Practical Visionaries Field Project Team in the expanded version that details information about individual businesses. We recommend that this data be organized and made into a user-friendly format and incorporated into Workshop 2 activities.

5. Review Data for information about Anchor Institutions:

The data represented in the six food economy maps displays aggregated data by zip code. In order to investigate what businesses within these zip code areas are considered anchor institutions, we suggest looking at the expanded data that has information about the total annual sales and employment numbers of each business. Somerville Community Corporation in particular was interested in having data on anchor institutions and their purchasing and employment capacity.

Additional secondary research would also inform this analysis of anchor institutions – it is important to define “anchor institution” consistently and within the context of the study area and community of focus. An anchor institution may have plenty of money flowing in and out, but understanding the relationship between an anchor and its neighbors is key to understanding its role in the community economy. Sample questions include: “what is the percentage of local (within zip code boundaries) employment?” or “how much money are the neighborhood residents spending at the institution?” Collecting data on the relationship of anchor institutions to their local economies is an important next step for this study.