NAFSN is a professional development association for people working together
to strengthen local and regional food systems.

NAFSN National Partner FEATURE: Wallace Center Completes Inaugural Cohort of Food Systems Leaders

Food Systems Network Leadership Retreat participants celebrating a transformative two and a half days together.

The Wallace Center is a national nonprofit that bridges the gap between on-the-ground food systems practitioners and funders, public agencies, and experts in the field, the Wallace Center has been working as a support system and intermediary to create resilient local and regional food systems throughout the United States for almost 35 years. As a food systems leadership organization with a focus on advancing systems change, the Wallace Center is sharpening its focus on racial equity and anti-racism and is working to ensure that all of their initiatives and programs contribute to the dismantling of structural and systemic racism in the food system. Within the Wallace Center, there are two main focus areas: Food System Leadership Team and Resilient Agriculture and Ecosystems Team. The Food System Leadership Team develops and offers an accessible and varied suite of opportunities for food systems leaders to connect and strengthen their professional skills, technical knowledge, and organizational capacity.

The team serves as the backbone for the Food Systems Leadership Network: a national peer learning community that connects current and emerging leaders, strengthens individual and collective leadership capacity, and fosters collaboration across communities to accelerate the realization of a just, equitable, and sustainable food system that generates good food, health, and opportunity for all. Along the same vein, the Resilient Agriculture and Ecosystems Team seeks to connect, inform, and empower educators, advocates, and leading practitioners working to advance regenerative agriculture in the Upper Midwest and U.S. as a whole. Although both teams have different focuses, they work together to achieve the goals of the Wallace Center.

The Food Systems Leadership Team recently completed the inaugural pilot cohort of the Gamechangers Laboratory, a program designed to support community-based food systems leaders to take a step back from their day to day operations and develop localized strategies that address the root causes of community food insecurity. During the six-month design and learning journey, three teams of community leaders from across the United States were supported financially to participate in systems leadership and human-centered design workshops. They worked with advisors and experts to build team capacity and skills, and design new collaborations and innovations. The first cohort finished the program in March 2020 and were well-positioned to respond and tackle local food insecurity issues that COVID-19 further exacerbated.

Another successful, ongoing program is the Pasture Project, which is spearheaded by the Resilient Agriculture and Ecosystems Team. By working with farmers, local and regional production chains, governments, and membership organizations, the project aims to increase the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices, such as cover crop grazing. 

An upcoming initiative will support community food system leaders working to advance institutional investment in their local food systems. This will be an 18-month program and will feature activities such as grant writing, building skills and capacity, and partnering with expert mentors. This program will launch in early 2021. Additionally, as they considered their role in anti-racism work and their own journey towards becoming an anti-racist organization, the Wallace Center acknowledged that although there are plenty of resources for individuals aiming to become anti-racist, there lacked resources for organizations to address inequities and dismantle white supremacy in their organizations and programming. Therefore, they are working with partners to develop trainings for organizations striving to become actively anti-racist. 

The Wallace Center understands that food systems are dynamic, and they continue to develop programs for organizations aiming to improve and create positive change in their communities. Become a member of the Wallace Center to stay up to date with their programs and initiatives.

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