New tool for food systems researchers

Jul 19, 2013

In an effort to narrow the gap between implementation of local food system projects and related academic research, a team at the University of California, Davis compiled articles from peer-reviewed journals into an extensive bibliography. Their article, "Community food systems: Strengthening the research-to-practice continuum," provides an initial analysis of the bibliography and is published in the spring 2013 issue of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

After systematically compiling the literature and reviewing a sample of about a third of the articles, the team identified three recurring strategic challenges facing practitioners: (1) an economic challenge of finding prices that balance farmers' incomes with food access for low-income consumers, (2) a social challenge to confront racial and class injustice, and (3) a political challenge of reconciling incremental and systemic change strategies. The authors elaborate on these challenges, giving examples such as the debate surrounding conventionalization of organics, and the issue of cultural privilege, referencing articles from the bibliography to demonstrate the ways they are framed by practitioners and academics.

"Our hope is to foster a conversation about community food systems in which research and practice are mutually reinforcing," says co-author David Campbell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Human and Community Development at UC Davis. "We started compiling the bibliography to help researchers focus on the most pressing questions for practitioners, but it's also a resource that practitioners can use to find academic work that speaks to the promise and limits of existing strategies. Already we are seeing a significant improvement in the quality and utility of research being done by UC Davis graduate students."

The paper concludes with suggestions for research that responds to the challenges and unites practitioners and academics. Campbell and co-authors Gail Feenstra, food systems analyst for the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and graduate student Ildi Carlisle-Cummins, invite others to use and build on the community food systems bibliography to add to the dialog between theory and practice. The bibliographies compiled by the UC Davis researchers are available at

The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development article "Community food systems: Strengthening the research-to-practice continuum," can be downloaded for free until Aug. 31, 2013, at

By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach