An initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Expert Perspective

Nurturing Local Leaders to Build Thriving Communities

Vital Village Networks Community Food Systems Fellows

Food systems


October 23rd, 2023


The Community Food Systems Fellowship supported by Vital Village Networks creates opportunities for emerging leaders who are committed to food justice, social equity, and improving their local food systems to promote health. The fellows support efforts to shift local power and decisionmaking structures into the hands of communities, particularly those of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Throughout 2022, 14 fellows based around the country partnered with community organizations on research and engagement projects. Fellows also participated in a co-design process to develop a shared vision for community-powered food systems and the result of this was a roadmap that draws on the deep knowledge and experiences of committed grassroots leaders and their diverse networks.

Ojibwe people ask, ‘Who are the people who set the pace?’ Our elders, children, those living with disability and illness. I look to [them] for direction [by] centering first those most impacted by the food system.

Kaitlyn Walsh, Seeds Our Relatives, Dream of Wild Health, 2022 Community Food Systems Fellow

The roadmap includes strategies for addressing systemic barriers, including efforts to protect food system workers and increase land access. It offers recommendations backed by guiding principles and practices for advancing equity. For example:


Protect and preserve the agency of food system workers and farmers who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color through just distribution of resources, opportunities, and fair compensation for labor.

Sample Guiding Principles and Practices

Allocate sustained local and federal funding to enable food system workers who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color to implement foodways of their own design that reflect cultural, social, and economic culinary practices and traditions of a specific community, geography, or historical period.


Expand food sovereignty by creating pathways for land access, ownership, and repatriation to Black and Indigenous communities and communities of color.

Sample Guiding Principles and Practices

Expand pathways and offer flexible financing for farmers and growers of color, and trusted community-rooted organizations, to transition from leasing to land ownership.

Learn more and see the full set of recommendations in the Roadmap: Centering Community Leadership and Power for an Equitable, Sustainable, & Just Food System.

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