A food-based inclusive economy is “an equitable food system that creates a new paradigm in which all – including those most vulnerable and those living in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color – can fully participate, prosper, and benefit. It is a system that, from farm to table, from processing to disposal, ensures economic opportunity; high-quality jobs with living wages; safe working conditions; access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food; and environmental sustainability.”  (adapted from Food Systems Caucus, PolicyLink Equity Summit, October 2015)   

This definition sets a framework for design and implementation of equity-based models that improve access to healthy and affordable food and address economic disparities, especially in communities of color and historically-marginalized communities.  Although there is good work already occurring in healthy food access across the country, there are concurrent deficits in equity-driven programming and investment in these programs to scale from working models to evidence how inclusive food economies shift the dynamics of poverty and poor health.

Innovation in equity-driven/inclusive models is in the deliberate focus on investment in community resident skills, capacity and ingenuity to design, own and operate local and inclusive food economies – and resulting ancillary improved community health, and economic opportunities linked to food-based economic engines.  To foster a community of practice, this work requires direct investment to properly catalyze and sustain inclusive development strategies, and institutionalize best practices to drive investment in EFOD practices.


Equitable Food Oriented Development

Equitable Food-Oriented Development (EFOD) is a model that dismantles the social and financial systems that perpetuate poverty, racism, and poor health that prevent the development of local and inclusive food economies.  Different than more typical strategies and approaches, EFOD sets up structural means to invest in community-ownership that creates locally-owned and -controlled social and financial economies, thereby combating external and internalized oppression.  An EFOD-based practice acknowledges the inequities that have been created over decades of institutionalized equity extraction, disinvestment, and financial exclusion in specific communities, An EFOD-based approach executes equitable investment in people, who have long been disinvested in, disenfranchised, and discriminated against to overcome those barriers, and create vibrant communities.  An EFOD-based approach ensures that access to resources, health and assets go to existing residents who have been marginalized in the past, and not to new residents attracted by infusion of new assets. An EFOD-based approach will ultimately allow the community to drive its solutions and uplift local systems to create community-informed and community-appropriate assets.  For example, EFOD does not focus how to get “food” into communities, but rather on how to get healthy and local foods into a system that provides all of the opportunities for residents – from production to value added to grocery retail to consumer – within a local economic- and healthy food- generating system.  A grocery store in itself does not make any structural social change in low-income, low-access communities; however, investing in residents to own and open a grocery store makes a domino effect of change that restructures access to resources, health and assets – and defines our communities as cultural destination neighborhoods, creating non-homogenous neighborhoods and communities.

EFOD is a community and economic development practice that builds community-driven, food-based economies rooted in the people, neighborhoods, and existing assets in communities of color, and in historically marginalized communities. This approach, flexible and adaptable to local content, includes the following key components to build community capacity and a pipeline of community-aligned and sustainable local food enterprises, and thus catalyzing economic growth, community health, and a more localized economy overall.

An initial key framework of EFOD:

  • Community engagement to direct planning and needs assessments

  • Place-based healthy food retail, aggregation and supply owned by community members

  • Business incubation and technical assistance

  • Capital access and financing

  • Training and Education in business and health


By directing investment and resources, EFOD-based approaches make existing locally-owned businesses stronger and fully support new businesses so that they can impact prevailing systems of economic exclusion.  Food-based enterprises that are part of an EFOD network operate under a broader, more equitable framework for local food businesses that links them to health- and wealth-building efforts more broadly resulting in local ownership, wealth redistribution toward community benefit, preservation of local culture – particularly of people of color – and longevity of health and asset building.  


EFOD works because a food based economy uplifts and preserves local cultures, individual and community health, and a value added chain that creates economic opportunity from production through consumption.  It acts as a catalyst for other economies in the community – even those not directly food-related.  This framework successfully revitalizes a broader community based economic engine that leads to sustained community health, and asset building.


New investment, investment instruments, and research are needed to support an EFOD initiative.  Investment dollars to fill gaps made by extractive disinvestment of social, and capital resources in communities of color and marginalized communities are needed to build skills, capacity, and create access to growth capital that residents need to operate and own local economic growth. This investment would be grant dollars that focus on education, business cultivation and early operational subsidies that result in long-sustained businesses – well beyond period of grant funding.  Debt capital is needed when businesses are stabilized and require funds for expansion, growth, new equipment, or relocation to facilitate scale.  Further exploration is needed to identify practitioners nationwide that would financially support EFOD projects.  As well, more research on EFOD impacts, intended outcomes, metrics and indicators must be conducted.  


New strategies for coupling funding streams are needed to form broad based financial platform – public and private – that will transform racially motivated disinvestment, poverty and community health and so that the organizations engaged in this work have the resources they need to launch this initiative noticeably, on a scale that shifts economic, social and racial disparities into economic and social equity.

Dana Harvey

Executive Director

Mandela Partners




Dana Harvey is the Executive Director of Mandela Partners, a 501c3 Community Development Corporation that shapes alternative, community-driven food access and economic development programs to shift dynamics of race, poverty and food insecurity.  Ms. Harvey holds a B.S. Degree in Conservation Ecology and Natural Resource Economics, and an M.S. Degree in Soil Science/Sustainable Agriculture from UC Berkeley.  She received the 2009 Women of Greatness Award from Mayor Dellums, 2010 Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader Award, was recognized by President Obama as a 2012 Champion of Change in Food Security, and is a 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader Fellow.  She attributes her systems thinking approach to her community, her education and a lifetime connection with nature.