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Food Justice Case Study: Communities in Partnership

This multi-year case study of Communities in Partnership (CIP) builds on 5+ years of community participatory research & capacity-building projects with Duke. CIP is a predominantly Black women-led, Black women founded, community-accountable organization that addresses the social determinants of health through interconnected programs addressing food justice, entrepreneurship and workforce development, affordable housing, transformative justice, and leadership development.

This study documents the history of East Durham, CIP’s origin story, and CIP’s many food justice solutions, including Community Potlucks, the Community Food Cooperative, deep working relationships with Black & Brown farmers, and the East Durham Market. This case study explores what has led to CIPs impact, growth, and success, namely:

  • CIP was founded by the community it serves
  • CIP’s programs are designed by and for community members
  • CIP is creating a Black and Brown-owned food system, not another food charity
  • CIP is developing a circular economy between Black and Brown communities & farmers
  • CIP is building for long-term resilience & autonomy

Key Concepts:

A multi-year case study of Communities in Partnership (CIP) highlighted key concepts that are broadly applicable to food justice work. Download Report (pdf).

  • Liberation: 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 is creating 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 both food and economic control to Black and Brown households in East Durham.
  • Naming & Addressing White Supremacy Culture: CIP’s analysis of how white supremacy culture manifests in the food system illuminated areas for targeted effort and action. 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.
  • Citizen Participation: CIP’s work centers participation to create 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.
  • Appreciative Inquiry and Asset-Based Community Development: CIP centered the gifts and inherent ability of East Durham residents to co-create a new food system. These approaches counter the deficit model and pathologization that was inherent in externally imposed programs addressing food insecurity in East Durham.
  • Cooperative Models: 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.
  • Food Apartheid: 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.
  • Circular Economy: CIP takes a systems view on the economic outcomes of its food programs. The Community Food Cooperative and East Durham Market are not only about providing subsidized food, but also about 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.




  • Elizabeth Towell, Duke World Food Policy Center
  • Georie Bryant, Communities in Partnership