Community Food Advocates Brings Policy Change Through Coalition-Building

by Leah Butz
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Community Food Advocates

What they do: Community Food Advocates (CFA) is an advocacy organization that takes on high-impact public policy change through coalition-building and organizing. CFA believes that access to nutritious, culturally appropriate food is an essential human right, and works to guide government agencies and officials toward programs and policies that combat poverty and food insecurity.

How they do it: CFA takes on large-scale issues in a unique way that incorporates many voices by building coalitions of stakeholders who otherwise would likely not be brought together. When CFA takes on an issue, they first brainstorm by asking, “Who else is impacted by this issue, and should be at the decision-making table with us?” in order to create partnerships among constituencies with unique perspectives. 

In 2013, CFA launched “Lunch 4 Learning,” an effort to bring universal free school lunch to all NYC public schools. Before CFA became involved, those working on the issue of free school lunch were largely anti-hunger groups. CFA’s coalition building brought other stakeholders, including teachers, parents, and school administrators, into the conversation and achieved success in 2017, when universal free school lunch was established in all NYC public schools. The group is now working to bring the policy to the state level. 

In addition, working on free school meals led CFA to advocate for NYC’s Cafeteria Enhancement Experience, a model developed by the NYC Department of Education to quickly and cost effectively modernize school cafeterias in order to make the spaces more welcoming and comfortable. Enhanced cafeterias see on average a 35 percent increase in student participation. Right now, roughly 200 high school and middle school cafeterias have been enhanced, and in fiscal year 2023, CFA and other stakeholders celebrated an additional $50 million in the NYC budget to transform 80 more cafeterias.

Latest project/campaign: In recent years, CFA has been gathering information about the ways in which food and gentrification intersect. Many underserved communities have long lacked easy access to full-service supermarkets because of the incorrect assumptions that there is no need or market for food stores in these communities. When these neighborhoods are gentrified, they are likely to see the opening of supermarkets geared toward the needs and shopping habits of newer, more affluent residents. CFA is hoping to use this research to determine what it would take on a policy level to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to affordable, quality full-service supermarkets that meet their dietary and cultural needs. Some efforts, including the NYC Planning’s FRESH Food Stores program, have been made to improve access, but their impact so far has been limited, and CFA is looking for opportunities for improvement.

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Major Funding: Foundation grants and individual donations

Annual Budget: ~$1mil

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: CFA leads both the New York City and New York State coalitions for the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), which encourages city agencies to practice values-based food procurement guided by five metrics: worker wellbeing, local economies, environmental sustainability, nutrition and animal welfare. Their advocacy brought together stakeholders with expertise in all of these fields, many of whom would not otherwise have had the opportunity to work together. 

While doing this work, CFA learned that New York state procurement laws are some of the most restrictive in the country, and that issues will have to be addressed at the state level before local and municipal agencies can adopt GFPP strategies.

Location: 115 Broadway, New York, NY 10006
Number of staff: 6 full-time
Areas served: NYC-wide
Year Started: 2010
Director: Liz Accles
Contact Information:

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