Few CFPs have the resources and skills to implement broad-based community participation.
“We also, like many other CFP projects, did not do as much diligent surveying of all impacted communities from our projects, so we met with some resistance for some of our goals.” – Former CFP Grantee
Many organizations that apply for CFP grants represent particular sectors such as food assistance, urban agriculture, or nutrition education. They may lack the resources or skills with which to organize and plan for broad-based community participation on an ongoing basis. Without such a process, proposals are just educated guesses despite some knowledge of the community, especially as it pertains to particular sectors. Although this aspect is now at least partially addressed by a small CFP planning grant category, the vast majority of applications are for projects that seek community input in only limited ways. This may be partly because applicants feel that the low probability of getting funded does not merit a large investment in community engagement and related planning for the proposed project.
Community and organizational con- texts pose special barriers to implementing CFPs.
Beyond frustrations related to the CFP Program itself, study participants also identified specific barriers related to community contexts, partnerships, and organizational challenges in implementing projects. Food projects are vulnerable to unusual weather and seasonal limitations. Many CFPs had to deal with natural challenges such as drought, hurricane damage, and especially hot summers that made food production or outside work difficult. They also had to respond to more mundane situations, some of which could have been anticipated earlier-such as the reality that youth desire for summer employment made them reluctant volunteers in projects, good quality agricultural land could be hard to secure for a new farmer project, or that some new markets may receive less traffic than anticipated. Because CFP activities tend to be seasonal and the growing season is critical for production and marketing activities, such obstacles cause some activities simply to fold until the following year, creating significant delays in the delivery of project objectives. In addition, because novel approaches are not sufficiently studied for their lessons, projects often get delayed due to missteps and course corrections that are needed as a result.
CFPs confront varying levels of knowledge of community food security principles.
“Some [people in my region] have no clue of what we’re talking about when we talk about food security… so we see this system of food banks and … as long as you can go get [food from them], why do we need to worry about [market-based] access to food? When I look at the attendance list for this conference, I noticed only three people from [my state]. … I’ve found that to be a chal- lenge for us to try and move things here; sometimes we’re the only ones playing the drum. …The next step is educating states, governors, legislators, etc., they’re just not there, how do you turn that around? [Furthermore],… there are very few state resources available for matching funds…” – Former CFP Grantee
CFPs often find that their efforts to raise awareness of their project or to implement particular activities are hindered by a low level of awareness of key community food security principles that underlie the CFP Program. One CFP representative complained that major food organizations in his area were squarely in the food assistance mode and could not think beyond charity-based assistance. Other participants mentioned the puzzlement they experienced in the community when talking about urban agriculture projects or developing small-scale value-added enterprises involving low-income individuals. These and similar reactions may create the need to slow down and take the time to help participants under- stand the project and its purposes-and/or for the organizers to understand participants’ interests and concerns and why they aren’t communicating effectively. This creates valuable opportunities for mutual learning, but it also may cut into implementation of the planned project.
Partnerships can be taxing to projects.
Problems with partnerships often make project activities difficult to design, coordinate, and implement collaboratively. Getting partners to a common understanding of “what the project is about” and the translation of project objectives into specific activities can take time in the best of circumstances. Partnerships surface legitimate differences in interests, expectations, cultures, and professional approaches among participants that need to be aired and resolved. Sometimes public employees or other partners who are important to CFP projects cannot attend due to changes in or lack of support from their organizations.
Partnerships also can pose more pernicious problems.
Several participants complained that some organizations were more interested in furthering narrow organizational interests than in developing community capacity and sustainable solutions. In other cases, partnerships created conflicts related to the allocation of project funding, accountability for delivering specific activities, turf issues, and management conflicts. Difficult personalities are another common source of problems within partnerships. Participants expressed frustration with the additional time, communications, and resources that need to be dedicated in order to implement collaborative aspects of the project. Considerable planning and time was required for communication through conference calls, meetings, electronic lists, etc. One participant emphasized the need to view relationship and capacity development in partnerships as programmatic objectives in themselves rather than simply as tools for delivering content. In this view, the payoffs from investing time and effort in partnership building are significant. Indeed, strong partnerships that last beyond the project lifetime were identified as an indicator of success by many study participants.
Thus, partnerships can be a double-edged sword for community-based initiatives. They can create value far in excess of an individual member’s contributions, or they can drain time and energy and hamper project objectives. Most projects, according to focus group participants, tend to fall somewhere in between, with the perceived benefits outweighing the challenges.
CFPs find inadequate critical information on successes and failures of CFS approaches. Since CFPs are being asked to develop and implement novel approaches to food, agriculture, and nutrition problems, they also are looking for information about the successes and failures of new approaches that have been tried elsewhere. One study participant was especially troubled by the rush to replicate specific approaches used in CFP Projects- such as food policy councils, small processing ventures, etc.-without adequate and critical information on what worked and what did not. Organizations that initiate novel approaches feel pressured to present narratives of success, so that others who attempt to replicate their approaches do so with incomplete and sometimes biased information. Competitive pressures for funding and visibility also lead organizations to exaggerate benefits and downplay challenges or failures they experience.