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City of Durham Food Justice Planning – New Futures

Moving from “on behalf of” to “in support of”: Deep listening to empower agents of change

The Duke World Food Policy Center supported a community-led process to understand the intersectionality of urban food justice. The process focused on listening, humility, and how institutions can re-learn how to be in community, moving from a leader to a listener and supporter.

The World Food Policy Center (WFPC) is a research, education, and convening organization within Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Its mission is to advance connected and inclusive food system policy and practice in support of the equity and resilience of local and global food systems. Their theory of change is that relationships and community-led solutions are central to creating sustainable foodways. And, that food systems cannot be equitable at a global level if they are not equitable at the local level.

Relationships focused on leveraging the position of Duke while shifting power to community leaders are at the heart of the WFPC model. Previous research has shown that networks among people and organizations produce and maintain power relationships within communities, often excluding people or organizations led by people of color. Access to networks can often be restricted as people in positions of power (either by intention or default) work with those who are already in their proximate networks. In instances where these networks are exclusionary, inequalities are often exacerbated at the detriment of projects and organizations. Research on interlocking directorates has shown how power is held within very small groups of people across a range of organizations nationally, and these processes translate to local communities as well. These patterns were also factors in the current project and needed to be addressed head-on to uphold the principles of justice and equity

How it’s done

Focusing on building trust and relationship across institutions and community leadership were the MOST critical aspects for long-term systems change

Working locally in the United States in Durham, North Carolina, the WFPC supported a decolonized food justice planning process. The process began by convening a “Design Team”, intended to bring a Durham-based approach to problem solving and community planning that recognized intersectionality, layered systems, and the need to build common frameworks for lasting solutions. As opposed to bringing together traditional institutional leaders, the Design Team brought together a diverse set of Durham-based voices, including community organizers, food justice advocates, educators, strategic planners, evaluators, and racial equity trainers. This group worked collectively to take on key project elements: building trust, setting goals, creating an overall process, facilitating activity, and establishing terms to move forward with care, intention, and ability to adapt the work from an emergent and relational as opposed to a linear and transactional perspective.

Key elements of the Design Team’s decolonized approach included: 1) co-developing agenda for meetings; 2) beginning and concluding with “centering experiences” such as sharing of personal stories; 3) regular communications to keep connected but consciously not rushing the process (continuing to “move quickly and move slowly” with trust-building guiding the process); 3) leaning into discomfort and being self-reflective to cultivate another way of thinking, feeling and being in the shared space as a team; 4) sharing materials and facilitating discussions that informed the Design Team’s function (e.g. articles on race equity/research methods); 5) responsiveness to stakeholder voices; 6) embracing flexibility (e.g. timeline) and emergent strategies (embracing a shift from food systems to food justice planning); and 7) moving at the speed of trust when relationships need to be nurtured and processes interrogated.

Food systems cannot be equitable at a global level if they are not equitable at the local level

The outcome 

The outcome of the community-led process was that establishing a “plan” for justice in Durham was antithetical to the principles of justice and community leadership. Instead, focusing on building trust and relationship across institutions and community leadership were the MOST critical aspects for long-term systems change. To build these relationships, the team needed to learn how the inequities in Durham came to be. As a result of this process, three key products were developed to understand the history of the inequities in Durham’s food system, how whiteness shows up in food systems efforts, and how relationship can begin to address some of the inequities through innovative equity-focused financing of community-led efforts:

  • Power & Benefit on the Plate: The History of Food in Durham, North Carolina
  • Identifying and Countering White Supremacy in Food Systems
  • How Innovative CDFIs Fund Equitable Food Oriented Development




  • Duke World Food Policy Center: Jen Zuckerman, Gizem Templeton, Deborah Hill, Elizabeth Towell,
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina Foundation
  • The Duke Endowment
  • Kenan Charitable Trust
  • Gretchen Thompson, Alexis Hoyt, and Natalie Eley from FHI 360
  • Durham Mayor Steve Schewel
  • Durham County Commissioner Heidi Carter
  • Marion Johnson, Frontline Solutions
  • Vivette Jeffries Logan, biwa | Emergent Equity
  • Camryn Smith, Communities in Partnership
  • Justin Robinson, Earthseed Collective
  • Kamal Bell, Sankofa Farms, LLC
  • Niasha Fray, Healthy Durham 2020