Poster Paper: Community Food Conversations: Engaging Diverse Communities in Determining Policy Priorities

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Pooja R. Paode, Maricopa County Food System Coalition; Arizona State University

Background: Maricopa County Food System Coalition, or “MarCo”, is an independent, voluntary coalition comprised of 225 individuals and 110 organizations advocating for the regeneration and advancement of a community-based food system in the region. As the leading expert on community food systems in Central Arizona, MarCo focuses on innovative and collaborative solutions through the work of our committees and work groups. In 2015, MarCo identified the need to conduct a comprehensive regional food assessment as a top priority and the Food Assessment Coordination Team, or “FACT”, was formed.

As part of the assessment, there was a need to identify opportunities to prioritize policy changes and implement strategies that will engage community residents in a meaningful way. In order to engage diverse voices understand local resident goals and values related to their community food system, the Coalition conducted a series of Community Food Conversations. Glendale (n=33), Tempe (n=18), and South Phoenix (n=48) were the three cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area chosen because they were at different stages of food system improvement (early with few activities versus advanced with multiple food system improvement activities). These were also communities with diverse, low- to medium-income populations underrepresented in the Coalition, where Coalition members had strong connections with community members who could help successfully carry out these sessions.

Methods: A hybrid “community listening session” community forum and focus group qualitative methods. Volunteer Coalition members each took on roles of Lead Facilitator, Co-Facilitator, and Observer-Notetaker. FACT members were ultimately responsible for the entirety of the process, as consultants were hired for the roles of training and guidance. Lead Facilitators worked closely with a Site Lead in each city to coordinate the sessions and recruit attendees. Community members recruited were English and/or Spanish-speaking adults and/or accompanied minors who reside in the targeted communities. Two phases of data collection took place. Each site hosted the first community listening session using uniform questions. The second session explored more deeply the themes uncovered in the first session. All sessions were recorded and transcripts were coded to identify major themes. Following the sessions, session facilitators and observers responded to an open-ended survey distributed to improve this process in the future.

Results: Residents in all three cities raised issues and opportunities for policy action around quality, affordability, access, education, and equity. Significantly, value food as a way to build relationships and foster a sense of community and belonging. These qualitative data were triangulated with data collected from an economic community food network analysis, county community health needs assessment data, and a survey to evaluate food access and diet-related health conducted with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. These results will go onto inform the Coalition’s local policy priorities as well as relevant municipal food and sustainability action plans. This experience highlights possible opportunities to triangulate multiple datasets around and opportunities to involve residents in urban policymaking.