Successful projects show progress in meeting particular community food needs. Successful CFPs are able to articulate to local and national audiences how their project helped create change in their areas by providing tangible resources, enhancing community knowledge, and increasing collaborative capacity to meet food needs of low-income populations. This goes beyond articulating how they satisfied the formal requirements of their grant. They are able to show the difference their project made to the place or population groups served with stories, images, and statistics that help distinguish “before” and “after” situations. They also are able to place their project, and its partnerships and activities, in a broader context of community and food system resources and needs. Therefore, successful CFPs are realistic about accomplishments and understand the limits and barriers they face.
Grantee report summaries suggest that experienced and better-resourced food organizations implement multiple, related projects–including CFP activities–in ways that build on each other. Thus, they are able to show more benefits as a result of these synergies. What is difficult to know is whether an organization’s success in attracting additional funding proportionately increases its effectiveness at meeting community needs as articulated by the CFP Program.
Successful projects are able to “hit the ground running.” Successful CFPs have built the requisite base to pre- pare them to move forward with implementing proposed activities soon after the grant award. This usually means that there are experienced staff members on board; key partners have been lined up with tentative agreements; there is a plan for recruiting project participants; and there is sufficient community buy-in about the need for the project and the approaches adopted. This aspect of community and organizational readiness is important because it can take quite a bit of time to develop these capacities. Project representatives who had these elements in place when the project started felt that the timing of the grant award was just right.
“For us, probably two factors made our project successful. [The first were] the resources [that were already] in place. We had plenty of fields, a kitchen, groups that could be brought in to a group setting out to start the education process. [The] second thing, not quantifiable for reporting, a passionate staff ready to do what they needed to do. That’s what made our project successful…” – Former CFP Grantee
The short timeline that projects have to deliver com- plex community food security objectives means that organizations with experience in the activities and collaborations that are proposed, and with resources to “hit the ground running” are ahead in being able to effectively deliver project objectives. Unfortunately, some organizations have neither the prior network or resources and experience needed to start implementation activities in a timely fashion, nor to adapt to challenges that emerge because of inadequate planning. In one case, a CFP in a rural community sought to provide area youth with train- ing in farming and nutrition; however, young peo- ple’s need for transportation and paid summer employment, and lack of staff skilled in nutrition led to a considerable scaling back of program objectives. The addition of planning grants in the CFP Program may help such organizations anticipate problems and plan effectively.
Successful projects gain community buy-in and support of activities. Successful CFPs come out of community processes in which the needs to be addressed by the project, its approaches and strategies, and the specific roles of partners all have been deliberated upon in broad strokes if not in great detail. When the CFP application emerges from a community food assessment whose findings are shared and discussed within the larger community, this helps build community buy- in. This buy-in helps heighten visibility of the issues addressed, assures that key partners are at the table, and enables projects to move forward more effective- ly. In turn, successful projects are able to reinforce community buy-in and ownership as they provide information, resources, and relationships needed in the community. When a project is proposed by an existing network of organizations, the networks can serve as a useful, though limited, proxy for broader community buy-in.
Many prospective applicants have limited ability to build community buy-in prior to the implementation of a larger Community Food Project grant. The recent addition of a planning category in CFP may help such organizations submit effective proposals in the future.
Successful projects adapt effectively to changing and unforeseen conditions. During implementation, CFPs often confront barriers that were unforeseen or inadequately addressed during the planning stages. For example, project representatives discussed difficulties with recruitment of participants in income-generating activities related to food processing, low levels of awareness among partners of community food security principles that were being advanced in their project, resistance of neighbors to a proposed community garden, securing land for a new farmer project, and engagement of community members in a youth leadership training project. In one case, a local mayor’s sustainability initiative provided an unanticipated resource that led the project in a new direction that turned out to be quite productive. Successful CFPs are able to assess these challenges and resources in the community context, develop alternative strategies, and put them into action in a timely fashion. Such flexibility and adaptability require both leadership and capacity within organizations and networks, and a can-do attitude that persists in the face of short-term setbacks.
A three-year CFP timeline also allowed grantees and their partners to learn about what worked and what didn’t, shift course, and develop more sophisticated practices. Participants credited the CFP Program administration in allowing a degree of flexibility in shifting project objectives to respond to unanticipat- ed and emerging community conditions.
Successful projects are able to build and strengthen effective community-based networks. Many successful CFPs effectively create, use, and strengthen community networks over the course of their project. These networks represent different sec- tors of the area’s food system and also link food sector actors with those in other community sectors. For example, networks may include nonprofits involved in food assistance, sustainable agriculture, health promotion, local food marketing, and com- munity development; local public agencies in health, economic development, planning, and recreation; and more rarely, private sector organizations repre- senting farmer, retailer, or food service vendor inter- ests. Besides helping create buy-in and a sense of collective ownership, strong community-based net- works contribute to other important characteristics of successful projects, such as adaptability and sus- tainability.
Strong networks are generally characterized by broadly shared goals, mutual respect and trust, and a shared knowledge base about the community con- text. They also have a capacity to work together to plan and implement projects, and the ability to develop innovative approaches through a collective assessment of problems and assets. Networks help projects in practical ways by recruiting participants and resources, identifying opportunities, and devel- oping complementary activities, thereby strengthening contributions of individual organizations. Networks, however, also can bring with them ten- sions, turf and resource conflicts, and differences in culture that can challenge project implementation. These are discussed in subsequent paragraphs highlighting challenges faced by CFPs.