Sunday, August 30, 2009

Community supported development and the Good Food Network

Mark and I got to talk with a wonderful group at a meeting last week in Chicago. It was a gathering of the Good Food Network of the Upper Midwest.

I got to reconnect with friends and meet people I'd only known through email. There was a wide-ranging discussion about our local food processing proposals. People in the room included universities, foundations, research institutions, food sales and distribution firms, and funding collaboratives representing local governments and large public institutional food buyers.

It was flat-out invigorating to participate. The very best parts of the discussion were the ones that pushed us hardest to justify the concept and details of our local foods processing project.

The give and take was really great. Mark and I got to disagree with each other on new stuff right in front of them. It was like doing the most fun parts of a startup in front of a live audience. I love my job.

These good folks are in a national conversation sponsored by the National Good Food Network (NGFN). This arises from the Wallace Center and Winrock International, which are all linked below.

Here is a short introduction to the NGFN: "The National Good Food Network is bringing together people from all parts of the rapidly emerging good food system – producers, buyers, distributors, advocates, investors and funders – to create a community dedicated to scaling up good food sourcing and access."

"The challenge presented by the food system is our opportunity—to revolutionize business models, develop new market relationships, and add value to traditional supply chain infrastructure, so that the growing business of good food is sown in the values of good food – all the way from farm to fork."

This was very interesting to me to be included in this larger national conversation about revolutionizing business models to meet clear market challenges. These are significant players, all well connected into the agriculture and food industries, and they are nurturing and inspiring change, not running from it. My kind of meeting. My kind of people.

As we roll out the Dirftless Foods / Iowa County Initiative, we're down to a few key details as I see it. We have a choice of doing this with largely private money or focusing on government grants. A hybrid model is likely and the implications of that decision will keenly influence the legal structure the project adopts.

Seeing how the Good Food Network is reaching across many traditionally closed boundaries to create new conversations about change and effectiveness, I feel much more confident about helping build a hybrid business model for our local foods processing facilities. They are after results not more discussion. That's what I want for this project: long-lasting, high quality results that benefit all stakeholders.

Our ideas for community sponsored development fit well into this model of a hybrid organization. We are designing a model to attract the investment from local investors and local groups, regional governments, as well as regional and national enterprises both public and private.

As the GFN says of themselves, "The National Good Food Network represents practitioners across the value chain building a new food system that rewards sustainable production, treats growers and workers fairly, improves the health of families and the wealth of communities, and meets the growing demand for healthy, green, fair, affordable food."

Sign me up. Let's get this done.

Many thanks to the Good Food Network of the Upper Midwest for a really illuminating introduction to their work and, best of all, a new way of looking at mine.

National Good Food Network

The Wallace Center

Short biography of Henry Wallace

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