“Partnerships in our grant were definitely important. Especially unlikely partners, those were important… and we went after those… For example, the mayor’s office had launched an effort in sustainability; it was mostly about energy, but they were very interested in a participatory process. We worked with them, and educated them on food issues, and they set up the food policy council to do the food assessment and develop the action plan. Because they came in as a partner, everyone involved is very much a food activist, because they got so many opportunities [to participate] out of this project. Farmers, school district partners… we had a real variety of partners, that was a key part of our success. The things we did, we couldn’t have done individually. So, the buy-in, the momentum, the timing was right, the synergy of all that was happening [made the project] a big success.” – Former CFP Grantee
Successful projects develop innovative, multi-sector approaches. Successful projects often bring together players representing food or community sectors who may not have collaborated before the project, or bring them together in altogether new roles. In this study, food marketing efforts connected individual farmers and cafeteria vendors and managers; food policy councils engaged public and private agencies in health, economic development, sustainability, and planning; gardening projects presented youth as teachers and facilitators; and new farmer initiatives brought together farmland owners and immigrant workers in new relationships. These and other projects helped create new linkages among existing community sectors and brought new perspectives to old problems of food insecurity, low farm income, and neighborhood disadvantage.
Institutional support from local public agencies was particularly helpful for project implementation, through access to resources and assistance from agency staff, according to study participants. It also was important to sustaining activities at the end of the CFP grant, by helping attract additional funding and incorporating some project activities into the agency. Public agencies (such as departments of health and education and extension agencies) also provided linkages to other sectors of government, helped with long-term planning and policy, and leveraged involvement from other local organizations. Study participants pointed to the excitement generated by the innovative approaches of their projects, which engaged partners in novel ways. They also pointed to the depth of learning created by cross-sectoral interactions, and the “aha” nature of revelations that emerged as actions were implemen ed.
Successful projects build community food leadership. Successful projects help cultivate individual and organizational leaders, and community leadership capacity around community food issues and activities. Projects help develop knowledge and experience around specific activities such as urban agriculture training, local policy adoption, farmers’ market development, and linking local farmers with institutional markets, as well as broader organizational skills. As individuals and organizations meet needs and produce outcomes, they also become “go-to” sources in the community on particular issues, pass along their knowledge and skills to newcomers, and help bring more attention and resources to their activities. The development of community food leadership is a tangible indicator of building capacity to address community issues.
The most successful effort that we ever did was to start public conversations about local farmland and start a Harvest Fest to get people on farms. This led to the creation of farmland preservation projects and funding that keeps growing because we built citizen leadership and eventually elected leaders who ran on the platform of saving farmland. Former CFP Grantee
To the extent that such leaders continue to advance community food security issues, they can help advance the project’s goals and perhaps sustain some the activities after CFP funding ends. Successful networks are able to cultivate a cadre of leaders who can work together, legitimately represent diverse sectors and constituencies, and be accountable to each other and the community. Food is a cross-cutting issue that links with multiple sectors in the community. One project leader in this study who initially got involved with urban agriculture and farmers’ market projects, for example, has moved into local health policy and has been able to create broader impacts for her skills.
Successful projects are able to sustain selected activities after the grant ends. A successful CFP is able to develop a group’s resource capacity and experience and put into place mechanisms to continue selected key activities beyond the timeline of the grant where appropriate. These mechanisms may involve successful additional fundraising, income-generating activities, continuing involvement of staff and volunteers, the integration of project activities into the partners’ ongoing activities, and internal cross-subsidies that allow service- oriented components to be supported by entrepreneurial components. These are discussed in greater detail in a subsequent paragraph that lists sustain- ability mechanisms used by CFPs.
Few CFPs are able to sustain all project activities at high levels after the grant ends. The typical Community Food Project has many elements that are labor intensive, such as those related to food production, sales, training, etc. Many activities are service-oriented and do not generate income or become self-supporting in other ways. Low-income communities also have limited ability to pick up the costs of services provided by CFPs, and CFP organizations typically also lack surplus funds to continue activities on their own. Despite these broad challenges, successful CFPs effectively put in place measures during the grant period to help sustain selected activities beyond the life of the grant.