As leaders, you should be cognizant of 3 levels of activism: advocacy, mobilization and organizing. Knowing the difference between those is often the key to avoiding burnout and engaging people successfully: actively educating others about ideas and needs around your market and its producers (advocacy), encouraging others to be active about those ideas and needs (mobilization), teaching others to lead, defining tactics and building campaign strategies to push those ideas forward or to address a looming legislative crisis(organizing). There are wonderful resources like this one from NYFC to get up to speed on the skills and tactics necessary for different types of work. It is also vital that this work is visible at the local, state and at regional and/or national level.
advocacy: Don’t Hide the Hard Work: Get ready folks, as this is my new mantra. It is wonderful that markets work hard to put on lovely, comforting markets that celebrate all that is good in community food and hide the duct tape that keeps it all together, but sometimes I think we leave the market organization’s own story behind. In order for it to be seen as a community asset, it is important that those who use it understand that money must be raised, partnerships have to be managed, and logistical issues are constant. So tell the story of the market and producers in words and pictures to audiences that are interested in expanding its impacts to others nearby. Don’t just tell the same “product available” version week after week, month after month; mix it up and instead use your email newsletter to advocate for a single policy change or to explain the FMPP proposal process or to highlight an evolution that one of your vendors has achieved or is working on. For example, it may be a story about one of your vendors getting their products on grocery store shelves and share some of the steps in terms of policy changes or product development that it took to get that done.
mobilization: • Ask your community to send out emails and tweets when legislators or other audiences need to understand how to make community food better. • Post your municipality’s public meetings and your state’s legislative schedule and invite members of your market community to attend as a group, dropping off some of FMC advocacy materials with your market information. That way, some of you might become information providers on food and farming issues for your legislators when necessary. • Don’t rely entirely on social media to mobilize everyone: Create a phone tree among your producers and affiliated stakeholders for when you want them to call about an issue concerning the market or production. • Offer bulleted points for people to write their own emails or letters. Don’t spend time creating online petitions; legislators rarely take those seriously. They are fine to raise awareness among a group of voters but do little beyond that when it comes to policy changes.
organizing: • Build an advisory team made up of vendors, shoppers, and neighbors. If possible, include younger people like vendors’ teenage children or employees, using the time to talk about policy issues affecting your market and its producers. Ask them to write short pieces for the market’s newsletter or tag along when you do an interview about the market. You’d be surprised how quickly members of your market community will get comfortable in talking about and even for the market if you bring them along carefully and with sensitivity to their fears about public speaking. • Invite state leaders to open the season (even for year-round markets) at the market with a ribbon-cutting ceremony or a bell-ringing. Ask a vendor board member or longtime shopper to spend a few minutes showing the leaders around. • Use Dot Surveys to regularly ask visitors and vendors questions about local issues and not always about food or farming. Post the responses and share them with the municipality.
as coalition members
advocacy: Don’t Hide the Hard Work. • Team up with the area’s intermediate buyers like restaurants to build support for farmers using multiple sales outlets. Ask those chefs and store buyers to use their social media sites to talk about the daily work of the market and your farmers.
mobilization: • Share data on your market impacts with your fellow markets and other food and farming advocates. • Organize a “rapid response team”for misleading stories about markets or farmers to give some context or analysis for the media or the market community. • Create a shared google calendar for writing letters to editors, to legislators and to your state’s policymakers on food and farming.
organizing: • Become members of an active market coalition and of at least one coalition where good food is not the primary goal; make sure any coalition you join is actively working on solutions for markets, producers or shoppers, and inclusive and transparent in its process. In those cases where it is less useful to meet regularly with nearby markets, focus on joining larger coalitions- like FMC of course!- but also try to find markets across the US that are similar to yours in terms of size, age or intent and organize yourself into an issue group. • Encourage your active community members to add a food and farming approach to their work if they are part of other groups, like anti-fracking, safe streets, immigration or in networking events for different professions (i.e. architects specializing in green building or recreational fishers) • Organize an event to show what a local food system looks and acts using as a toy village set up at your town hall or at the community center. Show some of the many, many films on food and farming now available.
This is only the beginning of the conversation. Be prepared to hear more from me and others about the need for our market leaders to engage on many issues outside market day. Remember too that markets are already “ahead” of many other organizers in that our work is all about being bridge-builders and working with people with a wide range of goals and perspectives. Let’s use our place in the public arena to connect more people and to build support for food sovereignty and active citizenship. And remind each other to not to allow “naive cynicism” to cloud our future or to limit the possibilities for action.
P.S. Hopefully most of you saw this on various listserves from Debbie Hillman but I think it bears reposting as often as possible:
Post election, this seems a good moment for U.S. food-and-farm activists to compare how federal resources are used on a regional (or state) level, especially whether these resources are— truly accessible to anyone and everyone— truly responsive to food-and-farm activists and practitioners.In this email, I am focusing on the seven regional offices of USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service (FNS), which is the primary federal division that focuses on food access — the food side of the food-and-farm dyad.
1. USDA FNS REGIONAL OFFICEsHere is a list of the seven USDA FNA Regional Offices:
Mid-Atlantic (Robbinsville, NJ), Midwest (Chicago, IL), Mountain Plains (Denver, CO), Northeast (Boston, MA), Southeast (Atlanta, GA), Southwest (Dallas, TX), Western (San Francisco, CA)See https://www.fns.usda.gov/fns-regional-offices for a list of the states served by each.
2. QUESTIONS to spark reflection and sharing
What do USDA FNS Regional offices do for food-and-farm activists?
How do activists in each region engage with the regional offices?
What can we learn from each other, region to region?
In 2017, what do we want to maintain in our regional offices?
In 2017, what do we want to put in place in our regional offices?
3. MIDWEST OFFICE EXAMPLE: GoodGreens (OH, IN, MI, IL, WI, MN)
To kickstart the conversation, here is a description of GoodGreens, a monthly networking event (plus monthly newsletters), hosted by the Midwest Office of USDA FNS. I have written about GoodGreens before, but have never asked about other regional offices. In my opinion, GoodGreens is a win-win model of government staff engaging with residents.
Official description: GoodGreens – Supporting local food systems in the Midwest RegionGoodGreens is a collaboration facilitated by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Midwest Region to share resources and best practices that support sustainable local foods production and increase consumption of healthy, locally grown foods. GoodGreens meetings are held monthly in person at the USDA Midwest Regional Office in downtown Chicago and via conference call.
— Monthly networking meetings open to anyone (every month except December)
— Monthly newsletters (usually 2 per month)
— Occasional special notices (new USDA grant cycle, events)
Public Affairs Office (Alan Shannon, Public Affairs Director)
USDA FNS Midwest Office
PRACTICAL BENEFITS TO REGIONAL ACTIVISTS
— Regular and easy-to-ready information (including meeting agendas and minutes)
— Meet or learn about other activists (people, organizations, businesses, projects)
— Connect niche areas (farm-to-school, urban agriculture, food hubs, etc.)
— Connect geographically (find potential partners in same state, county, municipality, etc.)
— Share details of your work (presentation at meetings, announcement through newsletter, etc.)
— Access to information about current resources (jobs, grants, events, etc.)
— Food justice activists learn about farm justice
— Farm justice activists learn about food justice
— Mutual learning among rural, urban, suburban communities
— Meetings are well organized but informal, held in a circle (conference call capability for people who can’t come to the office)
— Easy coalition building – no one is excluded
PRACTICAL BENEFITS TO USDA FNS REGIONAL OFFICE
— Easy way for regional office to learn about new food-and-farm initiatives
— Creates database and regional and state-by-state snapshot of food-and-farm issues
— Professional development for government staff: observe and learn the interconnection of everything and everyone in the food system
— Non-partisan (office is a facilitator, not a promoter of any agenda)
— Free to activists
— Little additional cost (if any) to USDA FNS regional office
GoodGreens began in 2007 as a collaboration between the USDA FNS Regional Office and a Chicago Congressman (Bobby Rush, 1st Cong. District – IL). I believe that Cong. Rush was getting a lot of requests from constituents about food-and-farm issues. Like most urban people in the U.S. (who are trained to be ignorant of the food-and-farm system), no one really knew what to do. So a senior staff member in Cong. Rush’s office (Anton Seals) suggested monthly networking meetings. These meetings were originally held in Cong. Rush’s office. After a couple of years, they were moved permanently to the USDA FNS Midwest Regional Office in downtown Chicago.
REPLICATION IN OTHER REGIONAL OFFICES?
I think that this model is easily replicable in other regional offices — and would even be a good model for civic engagement in most (if not all) areas of government. Getting a local Congressional representative on board might be one of the best ways to start the conversation.
Key to replicating this model is having a Public Affairs Director who is really interested in people and mutual sharing, in addition to being concerned about food access. In my opinion, we would not have GoodGreens without Alan Shannon, who set the tone for GoodGreens from the very beginning. (I sure hope we can keep him, but I’d be willing to share if he can help other government offices learn how easy it is to engage with the people they’re supposed to serve.)
SAMPLE NEWSLETTER: Jan. 26, 2017 meeting
Here is a link to the most recent GoodGreens newsletter (now on Constant Contact):
— Agenda for Jan. 26, 2017 meeting
— News, Resources, Grants, and More….
— Sign-up to receive future newsletters
4. OTHER USDA FNS REGIONAL OFFICES?
I’d be interested to hear about what’s going on in the other six USDA FNS Regional Offices. Maybe activists in the Midwest Region would want to borrow from the other offices. I’m pretty sure that others on COMFOOD, FNS, and NAFSN would be interested, too. — Debbie
You can’t fix agriculture without addressing immigration and labor or without rethinking energy policies; you can’t improve diets without reducing income inequality, which in turn requires unqualified equal rights for women and minorities; you can’t encourage people to cook more at home without questioning gender roles or the double or triple shifts that poor parents often must accept to make ends meet; you can’t fully change the role of women without tackling the future of work, childcare, and education; you can’t address climate change without challenging the power of corporations and their control over the state—and, not so incidentally, without challenging Big Food. The fight for healthy diets is part and parcel of these other struggles, and it will be won or lost alongside them.
It’s all connected; the common threads are justice, fairness, and respect. “Sustainable” is a word that we must now apply to democracy itself: a nation built on perpetuating injustice and the exploitation of people and nature doesn’t qualify. And a “sustainable food system” cannot exist inside an unsustainable political and economic system.