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Asset-Mapping to Reduce Chicago Food Waste

Harrison Horst
Harrison Horst, Spring 2022 Fellow,​

MA in Sustainable Urban Develpment, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences 

In January 2022, I began working with the Wasted Food Action Alliance through Seven Generations ahead, first as an intern and then as a Steans Graduate Fellow (since April 2022) around the topic of asset mapping. Broadly speaking, asset mapping is an approach to community development that borrows from the discipline of asset-based community development (ABCD) and seeks to identify strengths, capacities, and resources – rather than deficiencies – that already exist within communities. When it comes to food – and especially the reduction of wasted food – understanding and mapping the assets of communities can dramatically impact the capacity of a community to rescue and recycle their wasted food. Documenting and sharing resources on an accessible platform like Google Maps is a huge step for asset-based community development related to wasted food. My role has been to help SGA/WFAA better understand the vision and practical applications of asset mapping within our Chicago food system to better reduce wasted food.

Project Goals

The original project goals focused on supporting the WFAA as a researcher, facilitator, communicator, and process planner to better collaborate with Chicago-area food loss and waste organizations and more effectively deploy asset mapping and stakeholder analysis diagrams and maps. 

In my Steans Graduate Fellow application, I described the goals of the project as follows:

“During this fellowship, I will be able to lend further support to the Wasted Food Action Alliance through the non-profit Seven Generations Ahead and act as a researcher, facilitator, communicator, and process planner. Particular focus will be lent to the spirit of collaboration with other Chicago-based and Illinois-based networks and organizations and the successful deployment and engagement of asset mapping and stakeholder analysis diagrams or maps.  Potential collaborations will include the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, the Illinois Institute of Technology, BrightBeat environmental consulting, Illinois EPA, the City of Chicago, DePaul University, and the Chicago Food Policy Action Council. Mapping efforts will be conducted in close partnership with SGA staff Jen Nelson and Elise Pelletier, and thorough documentation of the techniques and research will be compiled and transferred prior to the conclusion of the fellowship."


A number of positive outcomes have arisen as a result of my fellowship with the WFAA. I have documented them here as a list.

  • With my support, a new collaborative partnership focused on collectivizing resources and goals around food asset mapping in Chicago – Chi FLoW – was formed between IIT, DePaul, and the Wasted Food Action Alliance
  • In June 2022, Chi FLoW held its first-ever Assembly, bringing together over 30 community stakeholders to share knowledge and resources, resulting in a new Resource Directory of people and projects in the Chicago area
  • My research on asset mapping and food waste was compiled in a Resource Database that includes models and resources for mapping food waste from around the region and country-wide
  • Using some of this research as a baseline, I created an interactive WFAA Members Map using Google Maps that displays all of the WFAA member data in an accessible manner
  • I developed a food asset mapping user guide for anyone interested in replicating the type of Google Map used above for quickly and easily turning community data into practical maps
  • All of these outputs are available through the set of links listed above. For the moment, many of these outputs live as shared Google documents, but will eventually be built into the Wasted Food Action website.

Challenges & Continued Work

Although we accomplished a lot during my time with the Wasted Food Action Alliance, much work remains to be done. The databases, resources, and web pages that are a compilation of the research I have done with the WFAA still have to be maintained, refined, and amplified. As noted above, many of the documents that include this information currently exist only as Google Documents available on a shared Google Drive and are not accessible to the broader public. These learnings are explicitly meant to be shared, but increasing awareness and access to these resources will involve at minimum a series of new web pages on the WFAA website, which in turn requires greater staff capacity.

In regards to Chi FLoW (Chicago Food Loss & Waste), facilitation and program management aspects (agenda-setting, note-taking, scheduling, etc.) continue to be a challenge for the informal collaborative. This type of work was formerly shared between myself and a graduate student in the Institute of Design at IIT, both of whom finished their term in summer 2022. Moving forward, another IIT student and an SGA program assistant (Elise Pelletier) have temporarily assumed this role, but the permanence and expectations of the role remain unclear. One of the future fellow descriptions I wrote (see below) outlines an opportunity for this position for DePaul graduate students.

Future Partnerships

The Wasted Food Action Alliance, as an unincorporated network, is operated entirely by volunteers and supported by interns when available. As a result, project turnover is high and successes depend on the availability of willing participants. In my opinion, there is a great amount of potential for future collaboration between WFAA/SGA and the Steans Center.

One of my final fellowship projects included creating job descriptions for future potential graduate or undergraduate interns. In collaboration with the WFAA/SGA site supervisor (Jen Nelson), I outlined three position descriptions for fellowships that will continue some of this important work. I identified three of the core roles I played as a Fellow: A researcher, a database and website developer, and a facilitator.

For myself, taking the time to write out these descriptions helped me reflect on my work, which evolved over the course of many months and eventually included many different facets. My hope is that, by working within the frameworks set up in this document, future DePaul students will feel a greater sense of clarity and focus throughout the course of their fellowship with WFAA/SGA.

Briefly, here are the three positions I outlined in the Fellowship roles document:

  • WFAA/Chi FLoW Asset Mapping: Resource Directory & Web Page Developer. To help make Chi FLoW's new resource directory more accessible by building new web pages on the WFAA website
  • WFAA/Chi FLoW Asset Mapping: Research and Community Outreach Assistant. To assist with and occasionally lead Chi FLoW's community-based research efforts on food waste assets in the Chicagoland area
  • WFAA/Chi FLoW Coordinating Team: Facilitator and Connector. To help organize and facilitate meetings for the Chi FLoW collaborative

In addition, I believe there is potential for collaboration within Dr. Rosing's courses that include a community-engaged research component for graduate students.


My Steans Fellowship and the collaborations it entailed left a noticeable impact on the greater Chicago community in several notable ways. I will list just a few here.

  • Collaborations between academic researchers and community stakeholders were strengthened, evidenced by the Chicagoland Food Sovereignty Coalition's request of a map of Chicago farmer's markets that was used to create new food rescue partnerships for local mutual aid groups
  • The Chi FLoW Assembly created new partnerships, furthered the Chicago-area conversation around food waste and asset mapping, and resulted in the prospective launch of a new database of food mapping projects in the city
  • The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County began conducting their own food waste asset inventory, laying the groundwork for other nearby municipalities or counties to independently take on similar assessments
  • By removing barriers to food rescue and streamlining data for food rescue projects, these new projects and partnerships increased access to fresh, healthy food for city residents

Some of the outcomes from my fellowship may have a shorter timespan, but these impacts will hopefully continue to have reverberating positive effects for years to come.


Working as a Steans Graduate Fellow was an incredibly formative experience for me that had lasting positive impacts on the partner organization, DePaul University, and the greater Chicago community. Personally, this fellowship encouraged me to consider the ways that data can both work for and against communities, a hugely important lesson as I prepare for a career in community data analysis. I am incredibly grateful to the staff at Seven Generations Ahead for our many, many conversations and for mentoring me throughout this journey.​