About this Project

The Food Systems Profile Project was driven by a growing interest in food systems as a community economic development tool in Wisconsin and the nearby states in the Upper Midwest. Principal partners include Laura Brown, UW-Extension Center for Community & Economic Development, Steve Deller, UW-Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and UW-Extension, Anna Haines, Center for Land Use Education, Dan Veroff and Jim Beaudoin, Applied Population Laboratory. The project was funded by the Northern Central Regional Center for Rural Development, involved Extension colleagues from a twelve state region who served on an advisory panel to provide feedback on the profiles, and involved expertise from three UW-Extension Centers (The Applied Population Laboratory, Center for Land Use Education, and Center for Community Economic Development).

As capacity for food systems work increases educators have expressed a need for access to sources of data to inform community planning and programming on this topic and to serve as a baseline for measuring the progress of local initiatives. While sources of information are available through Extension already on specific food systems topics, such as agricultural production or food insecurity, no comprehensive data tool exists to support holistic planning around food systems (considering various aspects of the food system from production to processing to consumption and disposal) as a whole.

Intended Outcomes and/or Research Objectives

The goal of this project was to develop and publish an online food systems profile tool using existing secondary data sources to:

  • Help county based educators and community leaders better understand the local/regional food system in a systematic way in the North Central Region.
  • Understand how key indicators are changing over time.
  • Identify opportunities for growth or expansion in regional food systems through the use of food and agricultural industry cluster analysis.

Program Outcomes - Impacts and/or Research Findings

This project resulted in the development of several important educational outputs including: food systems profiles for each county in the region (see attached), a worksheet to help educators use the profiles, regional maps, a food systems resource list, and a web based portal to help educators easily access the data. While this portal is not fully launched you may access it at http://www.foodsystems.wisc.edu/. The project also serves as a unique example of successful implementation of the Wisconsin idea through collaboration with partners across the twelve state region, specialists, county and campus based faculty. The project is currently being piloted by several colleagues who served on the advisory committee and the results of this pilot will be used to improve the tool and evaluate its effectiveness.


This project brings together a unique set of partners at the local, state, and regional level and offers lessons for educators interested in implementing broader scale collaborative projects. Because food systems work is cross-programmatic by nature, this work appeals to educators in all areas of Extension programming.

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