Community Food Assessment Toolkit Introduction

Community Food Assessment Toolkit - Mayor's message

Demand for local food is increasing, as is awareness of the difficulty many in our community have in accessing healthy and appropriate food. The Community Food Assessment Toolkit will continue an important dialogue on the importance of food systems in our community. In 2013, I hosted the Mayor’s Conversation on a Healthy and Liveable Community, and food related issues became a key theme during these discussions. Community food security became a priority in our 2014 Regional Plan, and our dialogue inspired Halifax’s first urban orchard, and a Mobile Food Market pilot project which is

delivering fresh, healthy and affordable food to those who otherwise would not have access.

I’d like to thank everyone involved in developing this toolkit, including Dalhousie University, the Halifax Food Policy Alliance, and Thrive! This toolkit will no doubt continue our momentum and prove to be a valuable tool for taking action to improve food access throughout the municipality. I’d also like to thank you, the members of our community, for starting a dialogue on your local food environment and your efforts to improve food security for us all. Our communities are key to developing solutions and making positive change. - Mayor Mike Savage


PDF of this page is available.

Community Food Assessment Toolkit

This Community Food Assessment Toolkit is intended primarily for the purpose of facilitating activities to identify the food resources that exist in your community, assess food security, and formulate strategies to improve the situation. Foremost this is a tool to start a dialogue with community members as partners of the process of enhancing community food security starting with developing a common understanding of the food environment.

This Community Food Assessment Toolkit provides practical, easy-to-use tools for the following activities:
1. Engage your community to learn and gather information about the food environment and food system
2. Assess opportunities and barriers to achieving community food security
3. Plan possible actions towards change.

Quick Facts about Food Security in Nova Scotia

Food Security

  • In 2011, over 17% of Nova Scotian households experienced some level of food insecurity, where in Halifax this number was as high as 20% in 2013, a rise from 13% in 2007
  • There was a 28.6% increase in food bank usage in Nova Scotia since 2008; Halifax specifically in 2013 had 8,555 people reliant on food banks, 2,660 (31%) of whom were children
  • Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of chronic disease and obesity in Canada. Chronic disease has been linked to food insecurity and has a significant impact on both quality of life and economic well being, both personal and communal
  • While there are 37 full scale grocery stores present in Halifax, the distribution outside of urban areas is sparse, and the accessibility to these poor

Alternative Food Programming 

  • There is an increased demand for healthy and nutritious food in Halifax, seen through the increase in alternative food programs such as community gardens and farmers markets.
  • A 2015 assessment by the Halifax Food Policy Alliance found:
    • 12 farmers’ markets
    • 20 community supported agriculture enterprises
    • A community supported fishery
    • 15 to 18 food trucks
    • 3 urban farms, and 41 community gardens

Supporting our Local Food

  • Farmers in Nova Scotia are struggling to make enough money, with farm debt in Nova Scotia increasing from $203 million in 1983 to $795 million in 2010
  • Our farmers are aging, with just 7% of Nova Scotian farmers under the age of 35
  • Only 13% of food dollars returned to Nova Scotian farmers in 2010
  • Farmland is a limited resource in Nova Scotia, which has not been adequately protected. Currently the mechanisms for farmland protection in Halifax are focused on retaining the opportunity for farming and not proactively encouraging farming nor expanding the area with potential for farming


Why do a food assessment? 

Food security is a right.

Access to adequate healthy food is a critical component of community food security. Food security is a fundamental right of every person as our diet is one of the most important factors in good health. Performing a food assessment and opening dialogue can be the first step in improving community food security.

In order to make a decision or plan action(s) to improve food security in your community, you first need to have a clear understanding of the current situation—e.g., what resources and services are available? What is lacking? What are the possible causes or influences on food security in your community? A food assessment is tool to start an analysis of the current state of your community’s food landscape or environment. It is used to inventory food retail and services, and to better understand the 1. Accessibility 2. Affordability 3. Availability 4. Adequacy 5. Awareness, and 6. Appropriateness, of food in your community. A community based food assessment goes further in that it also gathers information on the community’s perceptions and behaviours in the food environment, and helps understand awareness of food in the community
Step 1 of a food assessment is to collect information and analyze the situation together with your community, so that you can find the best way to respond to the issues that are compromising food security in your community. Research has shown that learning about community food and sharing the knowledge can empower the community and increase its capacity to create positive change while building broader awareness and support for the local system. Examples of food assessments and other food security tools from other communities are available in Step 5.


Food Security and Land Use Planning

Community Food Assessments are often the first step in planning for food security and have been used to inform both traditional planning practice and community food planning. Despite food being a basic need like clean water and shelter, food security and the food system have received little focus in planning practice until recently. This may be due to the fact that many aspects of the food system, such as food processing, distribution, and consumption have little direct impact on the built environment. However, as we learn more about the impact of the built environment and community design on the health of our communities, it has become clear that planning has an important role to play in improving community food security. The foundation of planning practice is based on the principle of making places better to serve the needs of people; as a basic need, food must be factored into planning and community design. In addition, our food system is intimately connected with a region’s economy, health outcomes and natural environment, which are all concerns of any planning profession.

Planning can directly impact food security and the health of the food environment by: 

  • preserving agricultural land 
  • improving transit and walkability to food outlets
  • reducing barriers to the growing, selling and processing of food
  • encouraging food services in areas where there is a shortage
  • maximizing opportunities for increased food awareness and access to food through land uses such as community kitchens and gardens

 A community food assessment is fundamental for developing recommendations for actions and planning policies that address food security, and subsequently identifying which of these measures are most applicable and effective in the community. This process will be enhanced by including broad community participation. This toolkit guides planners and policymakers as well as community leaders in the development of a community food assessment by engaging their community.