Because CFJC operations run largely on volunteer intern power—bless those wonderful interns—those of us fortunate to draw a coalition salary wear a lot of “hats.”
For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to complete grant proposals before I leave for Washington, D.C. to attend the Healthy Farms, Healthy People Farm Policy Summit which we helped organize. I’ll have more to say about that event elsewhere, but I wanted to write here about what I’ve learned as I developed proposals for the California Food and Justice Coalition.
To begin with, why should a funder, foundation, or you for that matter support yet one more nonprofit organization? That seems to me a very reasonable question.
The best reason is because it’s all about connecting the dots to see what needs to be done to rebuild our food system—and that’s what we do.
At the local level coalition members are doing amazing work. You can read about their efforts elsewhere in this newsletter, or by going to the CFJC website. CFJC staff leverages their work by participating in local food policy councils sharing best practices, providing technical assistance where requested and in some cases, developing new projects.
Mothers Taking Action (MTA) is one such new effort.
CFJC is training 20 MTA leaders in Stockton and South Oxnard to facilitate small group dialogue sessions by maintaining a safe environment for mothers to share best practices and concerns related to diet, nutrition, and their local food system. This is a first step in supporting family and community level change. As a result of the pilot project, what we have already learned is that by holding this “safe” space, the mothers naturally begin to ask, “What next? What can I do to change the food that is served in my child’s school lunch room?” Mothers across the state report that many times, even when they talk with school officials “nothing ever changes.”
The MTA project was designed to begin to answer those questions—what can mothers do to effect community change?
At the other end of the spectrum CFJC staff is working to build a new coalition of unlikely and nontraditional partners working on federal Farm Bill policy, including agriculture and public health organizations. Why? Because although current federal policy seems to work well for big business and corporations, it doesn’t always seem to work so well for the needs of people and our local communities. And that is no longer acceptable.
At the national level connecting the dots means that when we sit at the table, our national partners never forget that however sweet the deal may seem, if it doesn’t serve the needs of local communities they will hear about it from us. We will be curious to learn about who did in fact benefit, and we will be sure to report back to local communities on the process and outcomes.
Connecting the dots also means that when mothers in South Oxnard tire of trying to figure out why a school principal doesn’t change the school lunch program we can help to link them to other options. One option is a national Farm Bill that provides funding for alternative solutions and programs. Local health and other governmental organizations also have additional resources, and a network of nonprofit organizations not only can help, but very often hire outreach workers to actively engage community members.
But imagine the paradigm shift if more mothers and families were motivated—like the MTA mothers—to seek out, demand even, the resources available but often unclaimed?
It is just that kind of subtle shift that CFJC programs are designed to effect, building on the work of our member groups. But a subtle shift multiplied exponentially can change the world.
I’ve cited the Mothers Taking Action pilot project and Farm Bill 2012 reauthorization process because I think it illustrates how change at the most local level—in families—can be and is directly linked to federal policy.
Once again, there are truly any number of individuals, agency staff, and nonprofit organizations working tirelessly on behalf of our community members.
Connecting the dots means that CFJC helps expose the obstacles, barriers and challenges that get in the way of good intentions and efforts. Once exposed, our work going forward is clear.
Glossy logos aside, it is not always pretty to see what it means to place corporate profits above the needs of people, families and communities. We make it our business to do so because the alternative is unacceptable.
I am hopeful as I travel around the state and get ready to head back to Washington, D.C. to work on federal policy on behalf of our local communities because there is a tide of energy and awareness building to reclaim our right to healthy food, equity, and a healthy lifestyle.
The era of complacency is over. The days of just “go shopping” to be patriotic are gone.
Like the MTA mothers, more and more of us are asking, “What next?” What can we do next to change the status quo?
We can take back our democratic republic. CFJC is doing its part, on your behalf.
And that is why foundations and you should invest in the coalition.
It is a great time to come of age, for each of us.
All the best.
Y. Armando Nieto
California Foodand Justice Coalition