Posted June 2, 2016
Updates from the Field
This morning, I joined three other farm to school/institution network leaders in presenting a short course on Aligning Statewide & Reginal Farm to Cafeteria Efforts: Models of Collaboration Network Development. There were nearly 50 people from 21 states and two Canadian provinces in the room. It was clear that all had a lot to share and were eager to learn.
Following some introductory remarks and activities, the four network presenters – Betsy Rosenbluth (VT FEED/ VT FTS Network), Sarah Elliott (WI Farm to School), and Lyn Kathleen (Spark Policy Institute talking about the Colorado FTS Task Force), and me (talking about FINE) – shared the story of their network including our origin, structure, goals, partners, and funding sources.
Participants then worked on their network strategies in groups. The models shared by participants and presenters had many common themes, such as: the importance of relationship building, engaging key players, finding appropriate funding sources that align with mission and are sustainable, the need to establish baselines and measure against them, and being clear about decision making processes.
The contrasts were equally stark and interesting. In Iowa, the dominance of corn, soy and hogs in the agricultural landscape make it hard to source local produce; in the Northeast, the small size of farms makes it hard to aggregate enough product to supply farm to institution markets. In some states, the administration and legislature are major allies. In other states, not so much.
Some lessons for building successful networks were captured (see photo). The four-hour course flew by and the conversations could have continued much longer. What a great kick-off to the conference!