Talk About the Food Charters: States Gather to Share and Learn

Terra Soma, Consultant to Minnesota Food Charter

For three days in September (Sept. 17-19, 2019), nearly 80 representatives from 25 states and regions with food system plans, food system backbone organizations, or similar efforts to coordinate a state food system agenda gathered to share lessons, success stories, and challenges.

The convening, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, and hosted by the Center for Regional Food System at Michigan State University, was a highly interactive event, designed to facilitate sharing and learning among all attendees. I had the honor of serving on the planning team, and Kris Igo, Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives Director, also attended. She and I represented Minnesota and the Minnesota Food Charter.

Those attending the convening shared these goals:

  • Establish or strengthen relationships with practitioners and funders around the country.
  • Share learnings around key aspects of developing and implementing a state-level food system plan.
  • Identify current and potential funding streams for food system plan coordination.
  • Gather ideas for continued co-learning opportunities.

For those of you who want more, the full AGENDA and over 40 pages of extensive NOTES including all breakout sessions, are available.

Themes and Lessons Learned

In the decade since the Minnesota Food Charter and many other state-level plans were envisioned, a seismic cultural change has occurred.

While many early food system plans sought to address policy and systems changes focused on different food sectors, many food plans are now moving towards addressing root causes, particularly poverty, while shifting culture and creating institutional change to a justice lens.

In addition, food plans are working at intersections: They are pivoting to work towards food justice, while at the same time addressing economic justice, gender justice, environmental justice, and working with other movement institutions and allies. Successful food-systems change hinges on community and neighborhood resilience.

Organizations across the country are embracing struggles that come with being racially equitable by building shared awareness and understanding and supporting policy changes from within. While doing this work, transparency in all aspects of the work, including decision-making, agendas, documents, leadership, and finances, is critical. 

As we think about the Minnesota Food Charter, we offer these recommendations for statewide planning documents, gleaned from the many states at the convening:

  • Where plans were once more vague about outcomes, they are now seeking specific measurable goals and attach metrics. This has allowed organizations to focus on specific parts of the plan without being overwhelmed.
  • Plans stay relevant over time by listening, responding appropriately, and supporting the evolution of the work as communities define it.
  • Food system plans need to explicitly address farming and build extensive alliances with farmers. In title and in work, the documents need to explicitly link food AND farming.
  • In addition, nearly all plans are centering racial equity in the work and explicitly doing “values-based” work.
  • It is important to plan to communicate both small and big successes often and provide measures of success on the entire plan regularly. This might be an annual report on strategy progress, metrics (of any kind), and collections of stories from the people most closely involved in the successes. Photos and videos are helpful. People need to be reminded of why they are doing the work emotionally and also see progress rationally.  
  • Nearly all statewide groups are struggling with future sustained funding. When funding disappears, coordinated efforts struggle, even within strong, established networks.

What’s next?

The group will gather for a follow-up reflection call on December 4th, 2019 to further identify areas for collaboration. A number of states are working on revisions of their state food plans and many have an interest in establishing a workgroup to learn and share the experience together.

We’ll post any relevant updates here!