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The Community Food Navigator (the Navigator) was launched in Chicago in 2020 by local food system leaders and organizers to connect, support, and amplify the efforts of those working to make our regional food system equitable, sustainable, and community driven. It is a collaborative of people working within Chicago’s food ecosystem and a space to connect and share information about urban agriculture and food justice initiatives. Its community leaders, called stewards, guide the Navigator with support from its staff and advisory committee. Its mission is to support local Black, Brown, and Indigenous (BBI) growers, producers, educators, and organizers working to advance food sovereignty so that the people who produce, distribute, and consume food have power and control of food system production, distribution, and governance.

Community members talking under a tent at a seed swap and gathering at Cedillo's Fresh Produce.
Seed swap and gathering at Cedillo's Fresh Produce, a family farm in Englewood. Photo by Davon Clark

The Navigator is guided by the principles of collective care, education, equitable opportunities, circularity, and sustainability. It holds in-person and virtual meetings and events to create opportunities for dialogue, education, cultural celebration, reclamation, and organizing. The Navigator formally started in 2020 and builds on the work of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council and other local groups. Given its start during the pandemic, the Navigator’s first space was necessarily virtual and facilitated ongoing conversations and strategizing during the pandemic quarantines. It created a mobile app with input from the community that launched in February 2023 to create space for BBI growers and others in Chicago’s food ecosystem to connect, build relationships, and share information and resources. The app also increases food growers and producers’ visibility and reach.

While the core ideas of the Navigator were familiar and previously advocated by many engaged in Chicago’s food sovereignty movement, the pandemic created a sense of urgency and greater support for its activation. COVID exposed and increased gaps in food market availability, particularly in Chicago’s BBI and under-resourced communities. The abundance of fresh and healthy food that Chicago’s urban farmers could easily provide their neighbors amplified the advantages of a hyper-local food economy and the need for greater food sovereignty.

Six Community Food Navigator team members smile and pose for a group photo at the Navigator’s 2023 “Springtime Gathering”
Community Food Navigator team members at the 2023 Springtime Gathering. Photo by Davon Clark

The Community Food Navigator is community driven and addresses the challenges of BBI and other local farmers. It connects Chicago’s urban agriculture communities and facilitates collective problem solving, resource development, and sharing. Navigator staff and stewards host virtual and in-person education, workshops, outreach, and fellowship activities. Its activities and goals align with the recommendations promoted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the HEAL Food Alliance in their 2019 policy brief, “Leveling the Fields - Creating Farming Opportunities for Black People, Indigenous People, and other People of Color” to reduce barriers for BBI growers to secure capital, credit, land, infrastructure, and information and to mitigate the impact of centuries of racist and discriminatory agricultural policies and institutional practices in the US. The Navigator supports and elevates the voices of BBI farmers and enables community driven solutions to engender community change.

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