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Food Justice Case Study: Communities in Partnership

Published: January 2022
Authors: Elizabeth Towell, Georie Bryant

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Cover Image - Communities in Partnership Case Study

This report presents a multi-year case study of Communities in Partnership (CIP), a predominantly Black women-led, Black women founded, community-accountable organization that addresses social determinants of health through interconnected programs addressing food justice, entrepreneurship, and workforce development, affordable housing, transformative justice, and leadership development. This case study is intended to maintain its specificity and local contextuality while pointing to some key themes that may have broader utility for other organizations.

This report is co-authored by the World Food Policy Center (WFPC) and CIP. These organizations have collaborated on community participatory research & capacity-building projects for over four years. The WFPC has supported CIP’s programs, and CIP has advised the WFPC across its food justice research project portfolio.

This case study explores CIP’s alternative models, or “counter-narratives” to white supremacy culture in the food system in Durham, North Carolina. The report focuses on the “how” of these alternative models and the impact of alternative processes. Our research seeks to explain how CIP›s work counters narratives described by Alison Conrad in Identifying and Countering White Supremacy Culture in Food Systems, specifically:

  • How do CIP’s processes demonstrate community members taking care of themselves?
  • How does CIP’s food systems work center listening to the community?
  • How is CIP’s food systems work different from food charity?
  • What is the impact of community members taking care of themselves, listening to the community, and choosing alternatives to food charity?


CIP was founded by the community it serves

  • Community members in East Durham created the organization together as a tool for racial, economic, and social liberation at the community level
  • CIP uses food as a pathway to build community wealth and health, contextualized in a range of interconnected programs addressing the social determinants of health in East Durham

CIP programs are designed by and for community members

  • CIP engaged community members at all stages, using asset-based community development and appreciative inquiry approaches to relationship building and strategic planning

CIP is creating a Black and Brown-owned food system, not another food charity

  • CIP’s cooperative approach to building sustainable food justice continues citizen participation beyond planning and into implementation
  • A food cooperative builds relationships between owners and enables responsiveness to the community’s desire for specific foods and programs

CIP is developing a circular economy between Black and Brown communities & farmers

  • Using food as a tool for economic development, CIP is strengthening black and brown communities as a whole by patronizing Black and Brown farmers in the surrounding rural counties
  • Patronizing Black and Brown farmers is seen as a resilience strategy to ensure resources will stay in and grow for Black and Brown communities

CIP is building for resilience & autonomy

  • CIP is utilizing a tiered pricing strategy to enable both self-sufficiency and community support
  • Minimizing reliance on grant funding allows CIP to retain greater control over programs and ensure long-term solvency


The key reason CIP is so successful is that it is led by the people it serves. The resulting work is relationship-based, centered on the level of accountability and responsiveness one gives to family and neighbors. CIP is also grounded in a systems-level view of change, focused on the following characteristics:

Characteristics of CIP operations and values
Community-Rooted™ Community-Rooted™ (Smith et al., 2020) describes organizations like CIP committed to liberative community development practices and practices that put community members in control of the decisions that impact their lives.
CIP amplifies the lived experience of residents through governance structures, decision-making practices, and strategies that reinforce accountability, enhance community ownership, and emphasize systems-level change.
Responsiveness in Relationship CIP’s work is grounded in deep relationships. As a result, CIP is less fixated on maintaining static organizational programs and priorities and more focused on the community’s immediate, most pressing needs.
This means that CIP can respond quickly to new needs, reaching people that may not have engaged with external programming.
Antiracism &
Systems-Based Solutions
Executive Director Camryn Smith shared that for CIP, “it’s all about creating food systems that aren’t predicated on oppression and scarcity, that are owned and operated and benefiting Black people specifically first, and then secondarily other people groups of color who have been directly impacted.” She shared that CIP is, “fine-tuning our analysis to see the systems of inequality and how they basically work in tandem to have a lot of the outcomes that we were not wanting to impact our communities, ourselves or our kids.”


While CIP’s work is locally contextual by design, key concepts that guide the organization’s food systems work provide broadly relevant framing for food justice:

Liberation is about creating the circumstances for freedom as well as the state of freedom itself. When communities do not control their own food conditions, they are not free. CIP creates liberation through a local food system owned by and benefiting those most impacted by current inequities. CIP is superseding and replacing the structures that allowed external organizations to dictate and design the food system on behalf of citizens in East Durham. CIP’s programs reclaim the citizens’ power to create their own food environment, providing food and economic control to Black and Brown households in East Durham.

CIP’s analysis of how white supremacy culture manifests in the food system illuminated targeted effort and action areas. CIP’s work counters the paternalism, individualism, and eurocentrism inherent in white supremacy culture by creating democratic and collective processes that center the lived experience of East Durham’s Black and Brown community.

CIP’s work centers participation in creating solutions that are relevant and sustainable long-term. CIP’s food justice programs disrupt externally imposed manipulation as well as”well-intentioned” tokenism and consultation. CIP’s approaches are about full citizen ownership and control of the food system and other interconnected systems in East Durham.

CIP centered on the gifts and inherent ability of East Durham residents to co-create a new food system. These approaches counter the deficit model and pathologization inherent in externally imposed programs addressing food insecurity in East Durham.

CIP uses cooperative models to empower community members through democratic approaches for operations and decision-making. These models counter the power of individuals, institutions, and organizations to work “on behalf of” impacted communities in East Durham.

CIP utilizes the framing defined by activist Karen Washington to continually reinforce that “food deserts” are not an outcome of natural systems but rather a predictable output of structural inequity. CIP explicitly understands how public policy and city planning decisions led to the absence of fresh food retail and high-paying food industry jobs in East Durham. CIP’s programs address these issues head-on with an understanding of their historical context.

CIP takes a systems view on the economic outcomes of its food programs. The Community Food Cooperative and East Durham Market are about providing subsidized food and economic development and circulating money within a community of Black and Brown producers and consumers. This conception of a circular economy multiplies wealth as money cycles through rather than exits these communities.