Want to Change the Food System? Here’s Where to Start

At Civil Eats, we often get inquiries from people across the U.S. who want to start volunteering or working in the food system, but aren’t entirely sure how–or where–to get their hands dirty.

The good news is there are myriad ways to make a meaningful impact, whether in your backyard or across the globe. You could join a local food policy council, start a petition on Change.orgwrite a blog, set up informational interviews with food system leaders, take an online course, join or start a community garden, or learn from others about how they got started. There are also several great organizations that we think are making a difference. Below, we’ve listed a number of groups from multiple sectors in the food system which regularly offer opportunities for people looking to become more involved, including volunteer and internship positions, entry-level jobs, and academic and vocational programs.

Agriculture and Land Conservation

Food Access and Food Justice

Education and Academia


Hunger and Nutrition


Additional Resources, Job Sites, and Listservs


Have another great resource to share? Let us know!

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  1. Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
    Our annual Sustainable Ag Conference is a great place to learn about the latest sustainable farming techniques, how to advocate for fair farm and food policies, and to dig deeper into how you can change the food system. We offer one-on-one technical assistance and grants to farmers looking to become organically certified, GAPs certified, or retail ready. And, we work with communities to grow local and organic food systems and offer the nation's largest sustainable farm tour.
  2. Shelley Rogers
    Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

    You may want to check out the Domestic Fair Trade Association and the Agricultural Justice Project for your "Food Justice" category...

  3. Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
    Dear Civil Eats,

    I am an advocate of your media and of the movement to better shape our food system towards needs and values. However, I think the most significant thematic area you did not mention is enterprise/business. Clearly there is a negative association with conventional/status quo business, maybe even large business/corporates, however, I think that is where the change needs to happen if we are going to address the systemic challenges. Maybe looking at it through the lens of "what firms/businesses/enterprises are doing the things that will lead us towards producing, processing, packaging, distributing, educating, etc. in a more healthy, inclusive, just, environmentally regenerative/balanced way?"

    With every good wish,
  4. Olivia Maki
    Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
    I want to recommend FarmsReach as a resource for beginning farmers and ranchers. The website has toolkits, resources and an open forum where job and internship opportunities are often posted. ATTRA/ NCAT also has an incredible internship listing.


  5. Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
    ChangeLab Solutions develops law and policy strategies advocates can use to help their communities increase access to healthy, affordable, and fresh food. We cover several aspects of the food system, including establishing urban agriculture opportunities, promoting farmer’s markets and healthy mobile vending, improving corner store offerings, and attracting grocery retail to smaller communities. We encourage recent grads of public policy, public health, urban planning, law schools, or similar to get involved with us through our fellowship program.
  6. Marilyn
    Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
    Slow Food USA has 200 chapters in communities around the country who work on projects involving everything from school gardens, youth farmers markets, and garden to cafeteria to biodiversity, community building, crop mobs, and food justice. Almost everything is done by volunteers. You can visit the slowfoodusa.org web site to learn more and find a chapter near you.
  7. Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
    California Institute for Rural Studies work to increase social justice in rural California for all residents, building sustainable communities based on a healthy agriculture. Foremost in our work will be marginalized populations. The goals of our public interest research are to strengthen social justice and increase the sustainability of California's rural communities.
    Our work informs public policy and inspires action for social change while providing a fact-based foundation for organizations and individuals working to ameliorate rural injustice. While our commitment to the scientific method is at the foundation of our credibility, we recognize the inescapable role that values play in shaping the fundamental questions that researchers ask
  8. Sherry Staub
    Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
    Thank you for promoting involvement in transforming the food system...especially at school. But let's not forget that these school food systems in large districts especially, are massive enterprises of procuring and distributing food. Food Service administrators are hobbled by stringent procurement rules and bidding processes as well as financial restrictions. If you really want to make an impact, get to know your Food Service Administrators, School Board and State Govt officials. Too many well-meaning folks barge in with their ideas and demands and you end up with gridlock. No one wins.
  9. Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
    Fictional book series for kids (and adults) to read together or in gardening class: the Seed Savers Series. Set in a future where gardening is illegal and real food eliminated from the national diet, the series offers gardening, adventure, politics and asking the hard questions.

    “If you or your kids/students like fiction that is based on a possible future with kids as the
    heroes, then this series is for them. Along the way, they will also learn a bit about
    gardening, the fragile security surrounding our food and be entertained at the same time.”
  10. Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
    In Iowa, there are 15 Regional Food System Working Groups all doing great work throughout their various regions of the state. It is a place for individuals, organizations, and businesses to get involved in local, grass root efforts involving food system work. Our group is Eat Greater Des Moines and is based in Des Moines. (www.eatgreaterdesmoines.org) Thanks!

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  11. Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
    Thanks for great article, I'd also encourage people to check out Growing Cities national urban farm map (the only of it's kind!) to learn how to connect with local urban farmers and how you can get involved in your own backyard ... whether it's getting your hands dirty, getting your kids outside, sharing your knowledge, or volunteering your time! www.growingcitiesmovie.com
  12. Christopher Fisher
    Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
    Great resources - thanks to Adrian & CE for making the effort AND to all the commenters for making their additions. Will share widely
  13. Fei Mok
    Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
    A few other organizations:
    Bioversity: agricultural & forest biodiversity research http://www.bioversityinternational.org/
    CGIAR: intl ag research http://www.cgiar.org/
    IWMI: Intl water management institute http://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/
    Native Seed Search: seed conservation http://www.nativeseeds.org/
    Planting Justice: permaculture in Bay Area CA http://www.plantingjustice.org/ and more resources here http://www.plantingjustice.org/resources/links
    American Farmland Trust: conserving farmland http://www.farmland.org/
    Ag Innovations: CA network for conserving ag land http://aginnovations.org/
    Just Food: food justice in NYC http://www.justfood.org/
  14. Thomas Leavitt
    Thursday, May 15th, 2014
    FamilyFarmed.org is working in the Midwest to help farmers develop markets and inform the public about improving their food choices.
  15. Saturday, May 17th, 2014
    Wonderful list! Don't forget that National Young Farmers Coalition for Agriculture. Also, the Schumacher Institute does some very interesting things at the intersection of food/policy/economics.
  16. Kristy Athens
    Sunday, May 18th, 2014
    Another academic program is at Marylhurst University, Food Systems and Society: http://www.marylhurst.edu/academics/schools-colleges-departments/school-graduate-studies/food-systems-society/ms-food-systems-society/
  17. Monday, May 19th, 2014
    No seeds, no food. Don't forget the seed piece to this story. Most of the seeds now used in the emerging local food movement still come from thousands of miles away and include industrial hybrids which prevent us from saving our own seeds and the continuation of adaptation to our own climates. Seed School is a 6-day program designed to get farmers, gardeners and educators up to speed.
  18. Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
    It is SO helpful - & inspiring - to see so many groups & resourced listed together this way. Thank You.

    Also, our worker co-op, Equal Exchange, helped to jump-start the Fair Trade movement in the US back in the 80's and for those seeking to learn more about it we recommend the Fair World Project (see http://fairworldproject.org/overview/fair-trade/ ) and the Fair Trade Resource Network ( http://www.ftrn.org/ ).
    Although the FTRN will, sadly, be closing its doors soon we hope the site will remind up for awhile as it's a great place to learn more about Fair Trade.
  19. Leon starkman
    Wednesday, June 21st, 2017
    It was with great pleasure to hear the interview of my daughter and her life's work. Thank you for a fine Fathers Day gift.
  20. Tuesday, August 29th, 2017
    This page has been so helpful!! Thank you!
  21. Kalicia Bean
    Wednesday, November 8th, 2017
    As a post undergraduate student looking for opportunities in Agriculture Science and Food justice, I found this post very helpful.

    Thank you!