This project aims to build the capacity of local food coordinators and other agricultural educators working for the development of local food systems. The target audience includes Iowa State University Extension and Outreach staff and employees of other entities (RC&D, city planners, community groups, etc.). Professional development opportunities for these food system practitioners will help build a sustainable and effective local food system. Research shows that strong local food systems support profitability for farmers, strong environmental practices, and high quality of life for farmers and their communities. The project will support (1) a mentorship program pairing experienced local food coordinators with beginning coordinators, (2) peer learning groups calls: a series of monthly video chats that would each focus on a different topic identified by practitioners, and (3) individualized face to face technical consultations for regional food system working group sites. A committee of three local food farmers, three local food coordinators, the project evaluator and a national expert in food system development will advise the project.
Educational products: • Local Food Coordinator Toolkit used by all local food coordinators and supervisors, as well as regions and groups looking to hire local food coordinators or similar positions. The toolkit will be available on the Local Foods Team website and regularly updated. • Local food mentorship guide (including sample contracts, resources, etc.) • Local food peer learning group guide (including information about its structure, how to organize one, potential experts/speakers, evaluation forms, etc.) These publications and web resources will be shared in Iowa via the RFSWG listserv 254 members, Iowa State University county listserv and webinar platform. The resources will be shared with other states via the eXtension website, Community Food Systems listserv and the North American Food System Network (NAFSN) of which the Local Foods Team is a part of.
Educational activities: • A total of 12 local food coordinators or supervisors receive up to two individualized technical assistance consultations. • Mentorship program piloted by 3 mentor/mentee pairs, then implemented for 6 other mentor/mentee pairs. • Peer learning calls: 1015 local food practitioners pilot these learning calls for the first three months. Then 2-3 cohorts of 10-20 local food practitioners will participate in the peer learning groups.
Short term outcomes: Increased knowledge of participants in food systems topics. Increased capacity among local foods practitioners. Network of local food practitioners in Iowa grows. New relationships develop among people participating in the local food network. Extension educators develop new partnerships with food system stakeholders in their region. Farmers are key advisors in food system development processes.
Intermediate outcomes: Participating agricultural educators incorporate food systems concepts into existing and new programs, thereby meeting client demand. For example: Extension educations offer TA related to local foods to farmers or County Youth Coordinators participate in Farm to School or school garden programs. Farmers receive information, resources and technical assistance around local foods. New collaborative work begins among network members. Higher job retention among local food coordinators. More local food coordinators are hired. Local food practitioners leverage more funding to increase food system development outcomes.
Long term outcomes: Better coordination and increased support for local food system efforts in the North Central Region. Increase effectiveness of local food programming. Increased access to local foods. Policy, systems, and environmental changes to support local food systems occur throughout the state of Iowa.
Mentorship: Three newer local food coordinators applied and were successfully paired with experienced coordinators based on their needs identified in the application process.
Peer to Peer Calls: We have successfully hosted 5 peer-to-peer calls. The peer cohort selected topics for these calls were: Coaching Colleagues, Leaders and Allies, Food Systems Evaluation, Conflict Management, Tips for Improving Communication and Outreach, and Writing Successful Grants to Support Your Food Systems Work.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
January 2017: First edition of the Local Food Coordinators Toolkit is published.
The initial version of the local food coordinator toolkit was completed and posted online in January 2017. The toolkit can be viewed here: https://www.extension.iastate.edu/localfoods/beginning-local-food-coordinator-toolkit/. We also shared the toolkit site on the Iowa Regional Food System Working Group (RFSWG) email listserv (which reaches 300+ individuals).
Before publishing, three Iowa local food coordinators, who were involved in the initial concept of this idea, reviewed it. Since posting, this resource has also been directly shared with three new local food coordinators. We look forward to getting feedback from these same coordinators next year, after they have been in their position for a year, to ask if any additional resources that are currently not included would be helpful to add. After collecting additional feedback next year and making any appropriate updates, we plan to share the beta version of this toolkit nationally, as planned.
Educational & Outreach Activities
· Survey ISU Extension and Outreach county employees to determine how they would like to be
integrated in statewide food system work
· Invite ISU E&O County Staff to a special track at the fall RFSWG gathering
· Identify 3 farmers, 3 local food coordinators and an out-of-state expert to join the advisor
· In late 2017, hold first advisory committee meeting
· RFSWG fall meeting: launch mentor and peer learning group pilot programs
· In December, pilot mentorship program: 3 ‘beginning’ LFCs are assigned to 3 experienced LFCs.
· Pilot peer learning group calls: first cohort chooses a series of three topics they would like to
discuss over the next trimester (topic 1: January, topic 2: February, topic 3: March)
· Evaluate and adapt peer learning group call
· Launch two additional cohorts of monthly peer learning calls
· Submit first year SARE PDP grant project report to advisory board
· Evaluate and revise mentorship program
· Second advisory committee meeting
· Submit first year grant project report to NC SARE
This project has contributed to building the capacity of local food coordinators and other agricultural educators involved in the local food system in Iowa. The professional development and networking opportunities provided through the Peer to Peer conferences, the Mentorship program, Technical Assistance, Outreach to County staff and the Local Food Coordinator Toolkit have been well received and consistently attended/used.
The project’s advisory committee was formed and held its first in person meeting in March 2017. This gathering was a productive opportunity to get additional input on launching the different components of this grant. Constructive input included suggestions from farmers on the committee for peer to peer call topics that would support opportunities they see for local food system professionals to support their challenges as well as the out-of-state expert on the advisory committee from North Carolina sharing their experiences with and helpful resources for mentorship programs. The committee valued the opportunity to meet in person and requested that, if possible, all remaining meetings offer the option to convene in person for those who are local while connecting with others through video conferencing. They reviewed this update, and will be meeting next in November 2017.
Strategic Outreach to ISU Extension and Outreach County Employees– Throughout 2017, several initiatives were successfully undertaken to increase extension county staff involvement in and connection to the local food system professionals’ community in Iowa. 1) Direct emails were sent to extension county staff who have shown an interest in local foods work to invite them to professional development opportunities, events and peer-to-peer opportunities. 2) A new webpage was created that supports new and existing county staff in more easily connecting with other extension local food professionals in the state and related resources (https://www.extension.iastate.edu/localfoods/for-extension-staff/). 3) An electronic local foods needs assessment survey was created and distributed to over 130 extension county staff whose jobs currently do or have the potential to involve local foods. Ninety-seven staff members completed the survey. Among many things, this survey conveyed high-priority local food system interest areas for counties. We are currently working towards addressing professional development needs in high interest areas. Most recently, we developed an Introductory Farm to School webinar targeted towards extension staff, but applicable broadly to all community partners, that 155 individuals registered for. These initiatives appear to be paying off. Consistently over 50 percent of our quarterly Regional Food System Working Group attendees, peer-to-peer call participants and all of our peer mentees in 2017 were extension county staff. This consistent and higher than prior years participation rate, signals to us that extension county staff are finding value in networking with other local foods-engaged extension staff as well as other local food system professionals around the state.
Mentorship Program Successfully Completing First Year. Three newer local food coordinators applied and were successfully paired with experienced coordinators based on their needs identified in the application process. A “Getting Started” mentorship guide was created and distributed at the beginning of the relationship. The program coordinator was in regular contact with all mentors and mentees throughout the year. So far all mentorships have met or exceeded expectations laid out in the mentorship program. Although final evaluation of this first cohort is not yet completed, quarterly feedback gathered so far has highlighted such positive outcomes from these mentorship relationships such as obtaining new funding opportunities, new projects successfully executed, new useful partners and contacts established, and new leadership opportunities pursued due to increased confidence. Year two of the mentorship program is currently on-track to take place as planned.
Peer to Peer Calls
We have successfully hosted 5 peer-to-peer calls. The peer cohort selected topics for these calls were: Coaching Colleagues, Leaders and Allies, Food Systems Evaluation, Conflict Management, Tips for Improving Communication and Outreach, and Writing Successful Grants to Support Your Food Systems Work. Due to the unreliable nature of most local food system professionals schedules we have learned that the expectation of participating in monthly peer to peer calls is unrealistic. Convening every other or every third month (depending upon the business of that time of year) in 2017 provided the opportunity for better attendance. We have also learned that most of those attending are much more interested in hearing from local sources who have successfully navigated challenges or who are creatively finding solutions, as opposed to hiring a local or national “expert.” To make these conversations accessible to anyone who is unable to attend, we have archived closed caption video recordings on our website that several people have already taken advantage of. Beyond the general local food systems professionals cohort, there are no other specific cohorts formed at this time.
To execute the technical assistance program, our team created an application survey to understand individual and regional needs for one-on-one consultation. This survey was successfully sent out to the pre-identified Regional Food System Working Groups in Iowa in March 2017. To date we have had 7 applications from the 16 local food coordinators. Current application requests have included: one-on-one assistance for non-profit business development, assistance for developing an arts and agriculture program, consulting for website development, assistance on survey development and distribution, consultation on facilitation and collective impact, as well as travel funds to go to conferences or seminars. Although not all of these subject areas fall within our criteria for one-on-one consulting, we will be working with each coordinator to determine appropriate one-on-one consultants to help build skills that they are looking for.