Regional Food Systems Partnership Grant: Progress Report

Updated: Aug 8

Year 1: 2021

The Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council is a collective impact organization, so building up partnerships and maximizing the impact of our partners are both central to our work. The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP) program—aimed at strengthening the viability and resilience of regional food economies through collaboration and coordination—is a perfect-fit opportunity for us to strengthen and expand our regional food system and build more shared infrastructure together.


We have just wrapped up our first year of a three-year project funded under this program, GCRFPC Partnerships for a Healthy Regional Food System, and we are pleased to share what we've planned, what we've accomplished so far, and what lessons we're going to be carrying forward into Year 2.


infographic with Food Policy Council and Green Umbrella logos and council website, as well as veggies from council logo. Text reads: "Specialty Crop Block Grant Annual Report 2021. Outcome Objectives: to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through increased sales, consumption, and access and awareness. Support: administered by the US and Ohio Departments of Agriculture. $340,285 in sales of local food to existing partner school districts + new partners targeted for coming year; 5,050+ fun educational materials distributed, 7 regional growers featured + 3 harvests of the month, trading cards, posters, stickers, and more; thousands of people reached through communications."
quick-hit summary of RFSP annual report 2021

The Project

Our RFSP project goal is to increase institutional and consumer purchasing of local foods.


It's a big, comprehensive project, with four key objectives and at least twice as many strategies, all of which center on facilitating partnerships (our superpower!).

  • At the level of institutions, like schools, hospitals, and large employers, we're trying to increase the amount of local foods organizations purchase for their foodservice programs.

  • Among the members of those institutions, we're increasing demand by promoting local foods through educational marketing and wellness benefits.

  • Out in the neighborhoods, we are improving access to local food for households by making farmers markets more efficient and expanding distribution through buying clubs and small stores.

  • To enhance our collective impact, we are investing in evaluation and analysis of our work and convening partners through Council meetings and activities.

We are working with a wide range of partners across the region, including hospitals, health departments, markets, farmer groups, educational institutions, health organizations, faith groups, schools, neighborhood civic organizations, food hubs, colleges, and more.


Selected Accomplishments To-Date

Increase institutional local food purchasing

  • Our partner What Chefs Want created a tiered menu of options for institutions interested in values-based and local food purchasing, while we worked with the Cincinnati 2030 District to incorporate these practices into their newly launched Healthy Workplaces pillar.

  • We established a statewide Farm to School Spending Flexibility Team, identified policy priorities, and started legislative assessment and economic impact analysis for local food spending.

Increase consumer demand for local foods

  • With partner Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK), we recruited and promoted Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Voucher programs to Northern Kentucky employers.

  • We implemented a regional Feed Our Future marketing strategy to promote Farm to School with partners at Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Northern Kentucky Health Department, Cincinnati Public Schools, What Chefs Want, and United Purchasing Co-op.

Improve household access to local food

  • We established a Farm to Consumer team of farmers market managers, partner Produce Perks, and food access advocates to collaborate around building farmer market manager capacity and improving operations.

  • With public health partners and food security advocates, we incubated a network of partners creating neighborhood-led and neighborhood-scale food access solutions.

Expand organizational capacity for local food systems change advocacy

  • We established a data collection, retrieval, and reporting plan for all current projects.

  • We established a new website and blog to update constituents on our projects and impacts (and you found it!)

Lessons Learned

Distributed leadership is key.

The Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council is a convening body. Our regional food system gets its strength and resilience from having enthusiastic, knowledgeable leaders in each part of this work who can connect and collaborate through the infrastructure of the GCRFPC. The overall RFSP project is making great strides because we are able to lean on a structure where our partners are leading and driving the projects, and they are leaning on us to help facilitate the coordination and communication across sectors and systems.


Look to what's already there.

Elements of the strategies we are pursuing have been tested out in various ways in pilot programs conducted by partners and others in our networks. We can learn from these trial efforts to identify gaps that still need to be addressed, and apply successful tactics in other contexts. For example, lessons in streamlining the use of food benefits learned through a pilot project at farmers markets are relevant to neighborhood buying clubs, too. We can also look to what's already been done when trying to increase demand and purchases. For example, a strategic focus on existing customers of a food hub partner can provide quicker results than pursuing new customers. Leveraging, scaling, and replicating lessons learned prevents recreating solutions and makes more efficient use of the many great investments that have already been made.


Collaborative infrastructure is a valuable asset in times of upheaval.

The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic posed incredible challenges to the operations of our partners and slowed progress on some of their work. Partners were faced with diminished capacity, distancing—physical and otherwise, safety obstacles, and the prioritization of other emergency needs over food. These ongoing challenges are why the collaborative infrastructure of the GCRFPC is so important: our collaborative projects and ongoing meetings have helped partners stay connected and sustained the work. The GCRFPC will continue to provide meeting and connecting spaces and communications channels to support partners dealing with these and other challenges.


As the saying goes, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." We have far to go to create a food secure community, but through our collaborations around healthy, equitable, sustainable food systems, we will get there.

 

Funding for the numerous activities discussed here was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM190100XXXXG181. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

 

🤝 If you want to contribute to our work building partnerships across the region, become a member and get involved!