Recap: Food as a Community Building Tool

On December 8th, CFF partnered with Philanthropy New York to host a briefing titled Food as a Community Building Tool. You can find a video recording below.

Rick Luftglass (Executive Director, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund) moderated a panel comprised of Ben Thomases (Executive Director, Queens Community House), Robin Burger (Interim Executive Director, Just Food), and Nicholas Freudenberg (Director, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute). This program intentionally drew a distinction between community building and community organizing, while recognizing that those lines are often blurred.

Within its Healthy Food & Community Change initiative, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund has two grant programs that engage CDCs and settlement houses in food-related community building activities, one in partnership with LISC NYC and another with United Neighborhood Houses. Queens Community House is a grantee of the latter program, specifically for their work at Pomonok Houses. Ben spoke about Pomonok’s programs including a community-run farmers’ market, a food box delivery program, gardening activities, a food justice youth group, and 3 cycles of cooking courses which include community potlucks. Robin detailed how Just Food started out focusing on promoting community supported agriculture (CSA) and has now grown to include educational programs, technical assistance and training of trainers, and advocacy initiatives. Robin explained, “community building is both a condition for and an outcome for our work.”

The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute also has a number of initiatives, and serves as an evaluator for many food-based programs including the two Illumination-funded ones mentioned above. In assessing this work, Nicholas spoke about tensions between process vs. outcome, individual change vs. community/municipal change, and direct service vs. organizing/advocacy. He emphasized the need for standardized evaluations of the myriad food work happening in NYC by pointing out that despite so much activity we have not seen any real declines in diet-related diseasesĀ or food insecurity.

Alluding to the overall theme of the day, Ben shared that Pomonok’s programs use food as a community building tool, and also build community as a means of changing food (specifically, the way residents cook and eat). He emphasized the need to develop programs in partnership with community members for it to be successful, despite funders’ typical preference for clear, proven programs with evidence-based outcomes. Human service delivery is more complicated than just giving a pill and expecting standardized results, as every person and every community is unique and problems have multiple factors, some of which are controllable and some of which are not.


The video below opens with an introduction from Barbara Greenberg, former PNY board member and current co-chair of Community Food Funders. The time markers below can be used to jump around to different sections of the video

  • 2:30 – Introductions of everyone in the room
  • 4:10 – Overview from Rick Luftglass
  • 9:00 – Introductions of the panelists
  • 11:40 – Ben Thomases, Queens Community House
  • 26:05 – Robin Burger, Just Food
  • 40:45 – Nicholas Freudenberg, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute
  • 56:15 – Moderated panel discussion
  • 1:15:20 – Open discussion and Q&A
  • 1:46:55 – Closing remarks from panelists

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