We Joined a Community of Practice of Regional Food Policy Councils

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After a thorough review of over 50 applications by a team of project organizers, 11 food policy councils from across the country were selected for the 18-month project, reflecting a diversity of approaches to regional food systems work.

By Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council,

Published November 30, 2022

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Contributors: USDA, Maddie Chera, Kelly St. Charles

Among 11 Councils Nationwide Selected to Participate and Advance Regional Approaches to Food System Policy

We have been selected to participate in a community of practice focused on regional food systems development. After a thorough review of over 50 applications by a team of project organizers, 11 food policy councils from across the country were selected for the 18-month project, reflecting a diversity of approaches to regional food systems work.

What is a regional food policy council?

Regional food policy councils are collaborative groups that seek to address food-related issues across county and/or state boundaries. As part of this community, our Food Policy Council will help guide research and the creation of resources to support other councils in taking regional approaches to food system development.

What is a community of practice?

A community of practice (sometimes abbreviated “CoP”) is a group of people who come together to share best practices, solve problems, and create resources based on a common interest and usually a shared professional field. This format is used in many sectors, including education, nonprofits, governments, development, and more. Resources like those offered by Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium in Canada and by researchers who have studied the concept of CoPs, Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner, provide further information on what communities of practice are.

What is this community of practice for regional food policy councils about?

This new community of practice is a central part of a cooperative research project that aims to better understand regional approaches to strengthening food systems. Leading organizations in this project are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA AMS), Ohio State University, the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and Colorado State University. The project aims to better understand regional approaches to strengthening food systems.

Learn more about the project

Regional food policy work has emerged as a promising approach to developing equitable, sustainable, and vibrant food and agriculture systems. Yet, there is a need for more resources and information to support the work of food system practitioners working at this scale.

Tricia Kovacs, Deputy Administrator of the Transportation and Marketing Program of USDA-AMS, explained:

A more competitive, fair and resilient food system requires investment in regional supply chains, and food policy councils can play a critical role building bridges between rural communities and consumer markets.

Our director, Maddie Chera, agrees. “When we think about food systems, it makes sense for us to work regionally, as our food distribution networks cross state and city boundaries to bring food through the value chain,” Maddie said. “We are excited that the timing of this community of practice coincides with the implementation of our new strategic plan, role changes in our Food Policy Council, and growth in our parent organization, Green Umbrella. The community of practice will give us accountability, peer mentorship, and the chance to share what we’re learning during this pivotal time. We are so lucky to be gaining access to experts through the community of practice’s hosts and sponsors, too. We know they will be an invaluable resource, providing guidance as we grow.”

Who is participating?

In addition to the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council, the community of practice will include representatives from the Boston Food Access Council (MA), Cass Clay Food Partners (ND/MN), Columbia Gorge Food Security Coalition (OR/WA), Food Policy Council for Fresno County (CA), Hudson Valley Food System Coalition (NY), Just Foods Collaborative of Nash and Edgecombe Counties (NC), Metropolitan Washington Food Policy Directors/Food Security Coordinators Work Group (DC, MD, VA), Northwest Indiana Food Council (IN), Roanoke Foodshed Network (VA), and Western Prairie Food, Farm, and Community Alliance (KS).

Our director Maddie and Anna Haas, Program Director for Local Foods at the Cincinnati Office of food hub and distributor What Chefs Want!, will represent the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council in the community of practice.

Local Food Connection, a subsidiary of What Chefs Want!, is one of the longest-serving current members of the Food Policy Council, participating for at least seven years. Haas has served on committees and been an ongoing key partner, especially in Farm to Institution work that involves planning, supporting, and coordinating the flow of local food from regional farms to businesses and schools. She brings wide-ranging food system experience, expertise grounded in daily work directly with farmers and food artisans, and big picture systems perspective to lead in the Council’s implementation of grant-funded projects and other work.

What are we hoping to do through the community of practice?

Haas explained her motivation for participating in the community of practice:

I constantly find myself wishing those I work with across the Midwest could connect with their counterparts in other places, and once in a while they do. I would love to see this kind of learning and sharing happen more seamlessly within our Food Policy Council.

Haas continued, “How can each member of our Food Policy Council connect with their counterparts elsewhere and bring the information back to the Council in a dedicated and thoughtful way? And how can we sift through that huge body of knowledge that would accumulate, so that we could bring it forth into strategy and action? These are the questions I would like to tackle.”

Speaking about what she hopes to get out of the project, Chera said,

One of the challenges to our regional approach is interacting with the political landscapes of three different states, but the shared identity of those in our region makes it possible for policy wins and systems change in one state or municipality to be adopted by others nearby, even across nominal boundaries.

She further explained that vision: “I’d like to advance our regional identity so that the three states we work in (OH, KY, and IN) and the municipalities within them see each other as peers to cooperate with and egg on to continue improving on the resilience of our regional food system.”

We’re excited to share out what we learn through the Community of Practice. Others seem to be excited too! Coverage of our news appeared:


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