Developing Partnerships through Data

“After teaching people about healthy eating, you can’t send them back into a food desert,” says Alyssa Mouton, Health Education Supervisor, Community Health Education Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services.  The benefit of the food council, she says, is that it helps “look at things on a systems level.”   

Our ability to lead a healthy, productive life is determined by numerous factors, many connected to the food we grow and eat. Access to healthy food, affordable housing, reliable market opportunities and countless other indicators show progress towards the values or Whole Measures for Community-based Food Systems. These six Whole Measures guide a broad understanding of a food environment and can be used to evaluate cross-sector partnerships.  As Mouton noted above, public health educators are working on the systemic barriers to healthy eating. Our elected officials are also paying attention to the institutional barriers to healthy eating in our public schools.  

“It was eye-opening for me to learn about the obstacles for local farmers to sell directly to schools,” says Penny Rich, Chair, Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOC).  

Upon this realization, in 2017, the Orange County BOC adopted policy changes to support farmers in receiving Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) food safety certification, which is required to sell produce to schools.

Community Food Strategies worked over the past year to design this Community Food Snapshot template as a tool for food councils and communities to understand and encourage connections through food. Multiple partners and perspectives are important to learning and creating place-based solutions unique to each community. These data points are not the whole story, just a starting place to ask more questions and drive better understanding.  By creating a snapshot of a community’s food environment, you can start to uncover and highlight underlying barriers to healthy outcomes and explore opportunities for collaboration and action. 


  • Create a Community Food Snapshot for your community using these templates and available data.
  • Build partnerships with other organizations to collect and share food, farm and health data. 
  • Initiate conversations to better understand the community realities and impact of current policies.
  • Collect stories that tell a more complete picture of the data.
  • Share your Community Food Snapshot with key decision makers and partners.
  • Discuss the trends and opportunities connected to current policies and partners.
  • Initiate a more comprehensive Food Assessment.



The four County Snapshots above provide examples to initiate thinking about what data would be most important to share with your community. Download the excel spreadsheet below to help organize your data, access links to data sources, and read the instructions on how to collect each metric. 

We encourage you to customize these templates with additional or alternative metrics that are most useful to you and your partners.  Think about who is already collecting or using data, like county health departments, Cooperative Extension, school systems, police departments, and public libraries.  Remember that each county conducts County Health Assessments every three years that are unique to county priorities. They may have disaggregated data, more easily understandable data, or data that is more relevant to your priorities or partnerships.

  • Data Spreadsheet – An excel spreadsheet with links to data sources we used and instructions for collection
  • Graphic Template – A blank, editable Powerpoint slide to insert metrics and highlight stories, messages, or a call to action on the back.


We use Whole Measures for Community-based Food Systems as a framework for understanding and evaluating a community’s food system.  We selected three metrics in each whole measure category that best balanced the following criteria:

  • Public availability,
  • County-level data, 
  • Disaggregated by race/ethnicity, and
  • Connection to food systems

Limitless metrics could be used to assess and evaluate a community-based food system.  The metrics we chose were based on input from North Carolina food councils. We were challenged in finding county level data and/or disaggregated data for several indicators we wished to track, particularly for health and environmental indicators.  Disaggregated data can highlight systemic barriers to good health and opportunities for more effective solutions. We searched for data that was disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, or age. Organizations in your county may track additional data that would better explain the state of your community’s food system. Please edit the template as you see fit. 

As the Michigan State University’s 2019 Measuring Racial Equity in the Food Systems report notes, using the metrics they’ve listed keeps us more accountable to tracking progress toward a more equitable food system.  We strongly recommend reviewing the Notes of Caution in this above report.


Follow the links below to understand how the data was collected and to find additional metrics that may be more relevant to your community. 


We hope these templates inspire connection to existing and potential partners to gain a better understanding of your community’s food environment.  Single data points do not tell a complete story. We encourage you to gather and include stories from community members that illustrate trends and impacts that are grounded in lived experience. 

Please share your learnings and final products with us and we will add them here. 

If you have questions, feel free to contact us at

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