On Tuesday, November 9, 2021, Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) hosted the final session of this year’s virtual summit, Growing Together. This session, What’s Next?, was an open dialogue between CFSA steering committee members and event attendees to reflect on the three previous sessions of the summit and look at the next steps CFSA can look toward. A lively group discussion yielded the following thoughts and recommendations in three key areas: engagement, planning, and funding.
Many participants reflected on the Food Plan session of our summit. Both Massachusetts’ and Maine’s food plans involved substantial stakeholder and community engagement, with Winton giving the advice to “know when you’re done.” Participants strategized ways that CFSA can engage new audiences through our network. For example, CFSA can engage in town-by-town/community sessions to inform conversations about the food system and gather input for a food action plan. Our existing and new community partners can facilitate these conversations and gather feedback for CFSA to analyze.
A gap identified in many of these conversations was the difficulty to engage stakeholders due to time constraints or other barriers. We need to identify necessary stakeholders and build relationships in order to get community buy-in for this plan, and that includes overcoming barriers in order to make engagement easier for everyone. Mid-day events do not work for everyone so we need to meet people where they are, whether that means hosting more evening events or setting up one-on-one meetings with important stakeholders. Reducing barriers also includes overcoming language barriers and differences of abilities. In order to create an equitable food system, CFSA’s food action plan must include input from as many stakeholders as possible.
Food Systems Planning
This session’s attendees also had some helpful insights on planning. Many participants were engaged in food rescue or emergency food during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The systems through which these services reached the public could be helpful conduits for planning. The food plan could potentially mirror the structure used for state planning during COVID, which would be especially helpful since these stakeholders are already convening regularly.
In addition to planning methods, this group discussed legislative support. Reflecting again on the Food Plan session, attendees recalled that the Massachusetts plan had government buy-in and financial support from day one, while the Maine plan started without government support, eventually receiving support later. CFSA has support from convening bodies, like the Connecticut Food Policy Council through the Department of Agriculture. CFSA could focus some outreach efforts on engaging legislators who can support policies within the food action plan at the state level. This legislative buy-in could be helpful for advancing legislation across sectors, like economic development, infrastructure, and environmental policy.
As discussed in CFSA’s 2020 summit session, Funding & Policy, foundations are less likely to fund policy initiatives due to a number of factors, including educational gaps and lack of reportable outcomes. However, the attendees present at this final session brainstormed ideas related to securing funding. For example, CFSA can explore new lenses for viewing the food system that can qualify the organization for vital funding. Can our food system be a part of infrastructure? Climate change mitigation? CFSA may access grants or federal funding through these alternative lenses (not to mention emphasize the cross-sectoral nature of our food system).
According to the attendees at this session, these should be CFSA’s next steps:
- Engage with community partners that we have and are a part of our network. Our network is growing with every event – we would like to explore paths for engagement through those partnerships.
- Get people excited about the value of thinking comprehensively about the food system. Especially regular, end users of our food system. It is difficult to get people jazzed about the food system, especially food system users who are just concerned about getting food on the table. How can anyone using our current food system understand the bigger picture? How can CFSA get regular people interested in exploring the possibilities behind a different food system?
- Create a fact sheet on urgent data in Connecticut. Not only will this information help guide CFSA’s food action plan work, but it will also help facilitate network conversations about the food system, both online and offline.
- Look at what’s missing from state policy. Currently Connecticut is the only state in New England without a food action plan. While much is missing from current state policy, CFSA can examine current agriculture, social service, housing, and waste management policies that can inform our food action plan. We have to know where we are before we can decide where we are going.
If you would like to get more involved in CFSA, consider applying to join the steering committee. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.