The Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF) is partnering with Michigan State University (MSU) to engage in a community-based research project to better understand the food system in Flint, Michigan. This project examines all parts of the food system—production, distribution, access, consumption and waste.
Over four years, we will employ a variety of methods to gather community voices and experiences about Flint food. Community-based research design is woven throughout the project as we learn about the food system alongside community leaders and residents. Our Community Consultative Panel (CCP) is driving our engagement with the community.
Drawing on the legacy of activism and community engagement in Flint, we will develop models to identify leverage points for positive change. Flint shines as an example of what strong communities can achieve when working together, and we hope to support collective action that results in improved access to healthy food for all.
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Our Project Conception and Design
Negative images of Midwest industrial decline overwhelm the news about cities like Flint. But these ignore vibrant communities engaged in activism to promote social justice and equality.
The current food system in Flint is a patchwork of local, state, federal and philanthropic programs all attempting to address the many food/health needs of residents from multiple entry points (e.g. education, production, access, consumption). The resourcefulness and resiliency of this approach cannot be understated; however, little is known about how these many food programs can be leveraged together to vastly improve outcomes for programs and residents.
Guided by a Community Consultative Panel (CCP), the CFGF and computational modelers and researchers from MSU are embarking on a four-year participatory research project to better understand the food system in Flint. Because we are building this project with community partners, each phase of the research builds on our previous findings.
First, we will gather qualitative data on events that impacted the food system in the past, and complete visioning activities about the ideal food system. Next, we will work with community members gathering interview and visual documentation of how the food system is currently operating. Drawing on this data we will create quantitative mental models and Fuzzy Cognitive Maps of how this system operates. Based on those results, we will develop systems dynamics models to identify leverage points and determine which leverage points are most likely to lead to positive change. We will share research results at Flint community events, in peer reviewed journals, and in publications aimed at community and policy leaders.
We look forward to supporting our community partners as they engage these leverage points to create positive change.