During times of change and growth, it is easy to get caught up in the planning, the excitement, and the transition details. Urban Seeds (US) may have seemed quiescent over this past year+, and in some ways that has been true. We have not had a strong presence tabling at community events for instance, or talking about local food systems in a group venue. The good news is that the Evansville Area Food Council (EAFC), which is an extension of US, picked up some of that work. And now, it is the EAFC that has gone quiet…
The Back Story
In mid-2015, US was approached by the Welborn Baptist Foundation to assess our capacity to develop an area Food Council. At the time, the Board of Directors of US was down to 3 members. Due to routine life experiences of babies being born, professional obligations, and moving out of town, our Board had dwindled from a robust dozen members to three. Two of the three of us were quite busy with professional and family commitments, so that we were challenged to maintain a meaningful connection to our community, let alone grow our Board members.
Thus, when the Welborn Baptist Foundation reached out with the inquiry of our next steps, we readily agreed to pursue the development of an area Food Council. Welborn generously provided funding for training on the basics of Food Councils for the then-President of the Board and myself, as well as funds to initiate the Council. In January 2016, we convened the first EAFC meeting. Approximately 50 community members were invited whose work or volunteerism touched on access to healthy food; we included educators, chefs, school nutrition directors, non-profit directors of shelters, after-school programs, the Food Bank and food pantries, and business leaders. This group identified community strengths and opportunities regarding food access and health, and we agreed to continue to meet monthly, which we did for all of 2016.
We immediately identified a “low-hanging fruit” project for which we enthusiastically provided support: the Community Wellness Coordinators at Purdue Extension had just begun a Food Rescue pilot program in a local elementary school, for which we helped to study regulations and the further opportunities for change in this area.
Along the lines of mitigating food waste, we were thrilled to partner with the Change Maker/GAP students at the University of Evansville as they sought solutions to the excessive amount of food being tossed into the trash in their school cafeteria. We provided mentorship for sorting through regulatory issues, and were very proud of their successes as they worked with the cafeteria vendor to disseminate leftover foods within the network of shelters and pantries. As well, they received top honors at the presentation of their project to their peers and other community mentors!
Additionally, over the course of that year, we were able to provide a small grant to a program being piloted at Patchwork Central, called Fruits and Veggies Rx, which facilitates access to fresh produce by utilizing a “prescription” from a physician.
Taking it to the next level of non-profit excellence
As the EAFC members continued to brainstorm opportunities and partnerships within our community that would further our Mission and Vision, we were once again fortunate to be approached by Welborn Baptist Foundation with the opportunity to be mentored by a consultant who specializes in non-profits with a Social Justice mission and vision. We’ve been meeting with JD Levy and Associates for several months now, focusing on creating a strong foundation for success in our organization. As a 501c3, US is eligible to apply for grants, both from local, state and federal entities, including government grants. These grants will allow us to fund programs of great impact to our community, those that would indeed support the health and well-being of our community related to access to healthy food, while supporting a vibrant local foods economy. Stay tuned as we continue to explore opportunities!
To that end, the EAFC has been folded into Urban Seeds. Our current efforts have taken us back to the basics: we are working with our mentor/consultant on Board Development, which includes job descriptions and the expectations for Board members, a Theory of Change schematic, a database of our current and future partners, writing our story in a way that is compelling, and timeline for task accomplishment. This may not be as exciting as the actual projects with which we intend to engage in the coming months, but this foundational Board Development is paramount to the long-term success of US, and indeed, any non-profit. We are grateful for the generosity of Welborn Baptist Foundation for supporting us in this manner.
We are seeking to mindfully grow the Board, with the essential criteria for consideration as a member being a passion for Food Justice – be that delving into food policy, connecting with farmers to discuss a robust local food economy, creating meaningful partnerships with other non-profits or businesses that have a Social Justice focus, fundraising, to name a few of the opportunities. Please visit our website; we would love to hear from you, to answer your questions, and to meet with you in person to discuss your interest in US as we endeavor to create a meaningful presence in southwest Indiana.