Faith in Place empowers people of diverse faiths and spiritualities to be leaders in advancing environmental and racial justice, providing resources to educate, connect, and advocate for healthier communities. The organization has a history of working with sustainable food systems throughout the state of Illinois, where the southernmost 17 counties are sparsely populated and have experienced the loss of food access over the past several years.


Their Opportunity

In conversations with regional food partners, Faith in Place saw the potential for a mobile market program in southern Illinois, an area with a decline in retail food outlets and numerous areas with limited access to food.  Faith in Place proposed to use houses of worship to gather community information about food access since they often cross demographic boundaries and have a history of addressing food insecurity. Regional organizations Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers (LEAF) and Food Works are partnering to launch these mobile markets, with LEAF Food Hub as the primary food provider and Food Works as the market manager and host.

The project aimed to evaluate the concept’s feasibility, understand customer needs, identify potential locations, and develop tools for assessing sites and integrating the program into the chosen communities.


Partnering with New Venture Advisors

In May 2023, New Venture Advisors began working with Faith in Place, Food Works, and LEAF Food Hub. Over five months, the team conducted interviews, surveys, and focus groups and collected secondary data based on three primary project goals: identifying communities that could benefit from mobile markets, evaluating the overall needs and available products, and assessing the model’s feasibility.

The team designed two surveys. The first survey captured data from food producers about the availability of products and the viability of sourcing from local producers for the market. The second survey assessed interest from potential market customers. To reach a broad geographic audience, the project team worked with houses of worship affiliated with Faith in Place and professional and social contacts in the 17-county study region.

Primary research confirmed that the mobile market model could provide valuable food access in southern Illinois, identified communities ready to host the mobile market, and highlighted planning and communication strategies between LEAF Food Hub and Food Works. To support the working relationship between these two organizations, New Venture Advisors created a workshop to build a model that supports the project needs and individual organizational goals.

To assist the project team’s plan to open multiple markets in its first year, New Venture Advisors developed an assessment tool to evaluate each community’s needs and potential market value, form a local advisory committee, and create implementation and maintenance plans for each site. This tool will enable Food Works to remain the primary operator while fostering community buy-in, building long-term relationships, avoiding duplicating existing services, and adapting to the community’s evolving needs.


Moving Forward

The feasibility study supported the idea that the mobile market is a viable solution to low food access areas in southern Illinois. Faith in Place, Food Works, and LEAF Food Hub are already following the study’s recommendations and collaborating on an operating model and how to implement the assessment tool. The mobile market is slated to launch in the Summer or Fall of 2024.


Image courtesy of Food Works

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

In 2021, the Whatcom County Food System Committee conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors partnered with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan focuses on five key goals for building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system, and was informed by an inclusive community engagement process. The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2023)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a collaborative production kitchen benefitting food access, school system, and community organizations. The goal is strengthening Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. The facility will also feature an incubation kitchen, demonstration kitchen, event and classroom space, collaborative office and conference facilities, and housing.  New Venture Advisors developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development through engagement and operational development. (2023)