Growing Our State Food Plan

On Thursday, October 28, 2021, Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) hosted the second session of this year’s virtual summit, Growing Together. This session, Growing Our State Food Plan, gave attendees the opportunity to learn from other state food system planners, offer insight into what CFSA can incorporate into Connecticut’s food action plan, and learn about CFSA’s process and timeline for the food action plan. CFSA welcomed Winton Pitcoff, Director of Massachusetts Food System Collaborative,and Tanya Swain, Project Director of Maine Food Strategy, to present their states’ respective food plans.

Connecticut is the only state in New England that does not have a food action plan; however, this gives CFSA an opportunity to examine other states’ plans to draw inspiration as well as coordinate efforts. CFSA is part of New England Feeding New England, a regional partnership of food system planners across New England that is currently working toward a plan for growing 30% of food consumed in New England within New England by 2030. The New England Feeding New England partnership, in collaboration with Food Solutions New England, will utilize individual state food plans to generate a cohesive plan for the region. Additionally, state food plans will evolve based on this partnership, taking into account data from the regional initiative.

Both the Massachusetts and Maine plans have existed for some time now, so our speakers gave insight about how they funded and gathered initial support, how they got input, the structure for each, and how the plans are used at a state level.

Name: The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan

Year Completed: 2015
Government Affiliation: Early support from the state government with funding from the state budget and private funders.
Fun Fact: Massachusetts had a food plan back in the 1970’s, and was the first state in the country to create a food plan.

  • The Massachusetts Food Policy Council gathered input for the plan over two years. Working groups conducted regional and sectoral listening sessions and one-on-one interviews. Staff-members conducted targeted outreach to underrepresented communities like BIPOC and farmers who are often shut-out of these processes due to different barriers to access. An executive committee, made up of members of working groups, met on a regular basis during this time to move the project forward.
  • Each chapter of the plan, coinciding with a working group, followed important guiding lenses like workforce, environment, and equity. The Massachusetts plan also had a structured hierarchy for implementation where the goal is at the top, followed by a recommendation, and an action. The plan is available to read online.
  • Planners identified three stakeholders for implementation: legislature, administration, and private sector stakeholders. These stakeholders eventually formed the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative.
  • The Massachusetts plan concludes with quotes from everyone who provided feedback in order to include every voice.
  • Conclusions:
    • a good plan includes education and organizing
    • engagement is key but know when you’re done
    • work with policy makers
    • identify needs for ongoing discussion
    • be clear on what completion means
    • have an implementation plan

Name: The Maine Food Strategy Framework

Year Completed: 2016
Government Affiliation: Initially, the plan lacked support from the state government.
Fun Fact: Prior to the framework, Maine Food Strategy developed a Fisheries Primer to explore food system issues for seafood.

  • Maine Food Strategy found that government buy-in and support was necessary, but it was also important to maintain leadership during the transition from NGO work to government-supported work. Government involvement was also helpful for funding, which is difficult to obtain and sustain for planning and network activities otherwise.
  • After assembling the steering committee, Maine planners looked at past plans and other similar plans. From there, the committee established values and goals. Each value area had a coinciding section of the plan. The plan is available to read online.
  • Steering committee members gathered input on the values and goals through a number of stakeholder outreach activities and surveys. Maine Food Strategy made an effort to join organizations at their meetings instead of asking organizations or individuals to attend a different meeting. Maine Food Strategy organized focus groups to reach migrant workers in the state.
  • Implementation included identifying organizations working on projects or providing services related to the goals and methods to track those changes.
  • Conclusions:
    • early governmental support is important
    • be transparent about who is influencing the process
    • be flexible with input – meet groups where they already meet
    • buy-in is important for implementation – stakeholders involved in the planning process will be encouraged to reference the plan

After Winton’s and Tanya’s presentations, participants broke into groups to have conversations about the plans they just heard and how they feel about a Connecticut food action plan. All groups had incredible conversations, but here are the most talked-about topics:

  • Getting input from necessary stakeholders from the very beginning.
  • Ensuring that BIPOC and marginalized voices are represented in the plan.
  • Creating valuable relationships that eventually build trust in the plan. Transparency is going to be very important, especially when gaining trust.
  • Getting government support at an early stage.
  • Hiring experts and compensating people for work and input related to the plan.
  • Identifiable gaps: CT is full of silos in both our town planning and initiative planning. We need to figure out a regional approach.

CFSA’s steering committee will consider these topics while drafting a food action plan for the state.

So, what can CFSA do?

  • CFSA must generate state support for the food action plan. The Connecticut Food Policy Council has added CFSA’s updates as a consistent agenda item at meetings, which is an important step toward increased support and buy-in from the state.
  • CFSA’s proposed timeline for the food action plan ramps up in 2022:
Timeframe Target 
2022 Food action plan input, framework, equity strategy, plan assessments 
2023 Food plan input, first draft, food action plan bill 
2024 Food plan input, final draft 
  • CFSA’s next step will include strategizing ways to gather input for the food action plan with an emphasis on equity in our state. From there, CFSA will develop ways to encourage stakeholder buy-in and accountability.

CFSA relies on your input and activity to achieve these goals. If you would like to get more involved in CFSA, consider applying to join the steering committee. Email communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com for more information.

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