Garrett Stern

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Nonprofit Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Andrew Schoeneman

Second Advisor

Dr. Kelly Merrill


Over the past two decades there had been a significant shift in American values around food and health. The increase of diet-related illness and the growing awareness of the local food movement have helped to shape the discourse on healthy, nutritious, sustainably grown food. Food justice advocates and organization have inserted social justice principals of equity and self-determination into the dialogue of health and food. There has been a similar shift in the nonprofit sector in regard to local food programing, with local food nonprofits advocating for equity and inclusion in nonprofit food programing. Community engagement is key to putting the principals equity and inclusion into practice for local food nonprofits. It is one of the fundamental ways nonprofit organizations build relationships and increase impact with their client communities. Despite its importance to local food nonprofit success, there is little research on applied community engagement strategies used by local food nonprofits. This study helps address this gap in the research by collecting and analyzing data from semi-structured interviews of local food nonprofit leaders in Virginia on how they are using community engagement to achieve health and nutrition goals while also building on food justice principals of self-determination and equity with their client communities, specifically African-American communities in central and southwest Virginia. This study reports the findings, implications, and recommendations gained from a qualitative analysis of the interview data through categorizing the various community engagement strategies used by local food non-profits along a continuum of equity building practices adapted from Bowen et al.’s continuum of community engagement.