Congratulations to the Institutional Investment Accelerator Teams!

Congratulations to the Institutional Investment Accelerator Teams! 

This team is deeply invested in the collective farm-to-institution efforts in our home region. We see this Institutional Investment Accelerator as an opportunity to come together to look beyond procurement and focus on the root causes of injustice in our food systems by building community wealth with and for BIPOC communities.”- Aaron Vargas, Food Equity Manager, Ecotrust, Portland Team Lead

The Wallace Center is thrilled to announce the six community-based teams participating in the inaugural cohort of our Institutional Investment Accelerator, made possible through the generous support of the Kresge Foundation. Representing coalitions and collaborative efforts in urban, rural, coastal, and heartland communities, the teams share a common goal of partnering with and seeking investment from institutions to increase community health, wealth, and power. 

Through the Accelerator, teams from Baltimore, West Virginia, Northwest Arkansas, Chicago, Denver, and Portland will shape and implement unique strategies based on their goals and local assets. Each team comes to the Accelerator with history and relationships in their community and work in a variety of contexts, including nonprofits, faith-based communities, food businesses, healthcare, city government, and universities. Across the 18-month program, each team will work with an advisor, receive $10,000 in technical assistance funds to advance their strategies, and participate in cohort-wide trainings, learning journeys, and peer learning opportunities facilitated by the Wallace Center. “Food sovereignty, community wealth-building, and economic justice for BIPOC farmers is at the core of what we do at the East Denver Food Hub and participating in this Accelerator is an amazing opportunity to develop and advance our mission,” said the Roberto Meza, Director of Operations for the East Denver Food Hub and the Denver team lead.  

With so much momentum around establishing institutional procurement commitments and systems, this Accelerator will focus in on engaging institutions in building up the supply chain infrastructure and supportive ecosystems necessary to fulfill procurement goals. Dakarai Howard, Chicago team lead and Supply Chain Development Specialist at the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, sees the potential of this approach: “As project partners work together to shift institutional food purchasing, we have recognized that institutions must leverage their power and resources in other ways beyond direct food procurement. This includes reassessing procurement policies and practices, identifying complementary institutional initiatives that could support more equitable supply chain development, and providing commitments that help emerging food businesses access much needed resources, like land and financial capital.”

While they are working in different communities and contexts, all six teams are engaging institutions as key partners in their food systems change efforts, with an emphasis on building economic opportunity with and for Black-, Indigenous-, and other People of Color-owned food and farm businesses. For example, the Portland team hopes to better align the region’s parallel farm-to-institution efforts and explore institutional investments, like using vacant hospital land for food production, that build the capacity and economic resiliency of BIPOC producers. See the list below for more detail on each team and their areas of focus for the Accelerator.

“We are so excited to partner with these diverse and creative leaders to address the inequitable barriers that limit BIPOC-owned food and farm businesses’ ability to build wealth in their communities,” says Susan Schempf, Co-Director of the Wallace Center. “Institutions can be powerful partners in building economic opportunity, and we’re eager to learn alongside the teams about how to more meaningfully engage anchor institutions – beyond procurement– in our collective efforts to shift food systems towards equity.”

Accelerator Teams

Baltimore— A team of staff from the Black Church Food Security Network will improve supply chain logistics to link BIPOC farmers with Black churches in the mid-Atlantic.

  • Jamye Wooten, Black Church Food Security Network, Board of Directors President
  • Sha’Von Terrell, Black Church Food Security Network, Deputy Director 
  • Namita Money, Black Church Food Security Network, Black Church Supported Agriculture Coordinator 

West Virginia—This team will leverage a new state law requiring 5% local purchasing at state institutions to ensure that the procurement supports small and marginalized farmers.

  • Megan Govindan MPH, MS, RDN, LDN, West Virginia University – Center for Resilient Communities, Director of Community Leadership & Social Action/Service Instructor 
  • Kacey Gantzer, MPS-OL, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Planning Coordinator – Agriculture Business Division 
  • Patti Miller, Local Food Consultant, National Capital Investment Fund/Value Cluster Chain Initiative 

Northwest Arkansas—The team from Arkansas is working to facilitate local procurement and attract more investment from hospitals to support BIPOC farmers.

  • Emily English, Community Health and Research, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Assistant Professor 
  • Diana Endicott, The Food Conservancy, Project Director 
  • Brigham Cook, Arkansas Children’s Northwest and Morrison Group, Foodservices, Executive Chef 

ChicagoThis team is working to develop a racially and socially equitable regional food supply chain that can meet increasing institutional demand for good food, driven by the region’s Good Food Purchasing Policy.

  • Dakarai Howard, Chicago Food Policy Action Council, GFPI Supply Chain Development Specialist 
  • Weslynne Ashton, Illinois Institute of Technology, Associate Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainability 
  • Mariah Van Ermen, City of Chicago Mayor’s Office, Policy Advisor for Research & Data 

DenverThe Denver team is working to improve the supply chain for BIPOC farmers to ensure that the city’s Good Food Purchasing Policy contributes significantly to community wealth.

  • Roberto Meza, East Denver Food hub, Co-founder, Director of Operations 
  • Reed Smith, RAGS AG Consulting, LLC GroupGAP, Consultant 
  • JaSon Auguste, Frontline Farming, Director of Farming and Marketing 

Portland— This team will be focused on building community wealth and greater economic resiliency among BIPOC food producers by leveraging hospital-owned land for food production. 

  • Aaron Vargas, Ecotrust, Food Equity Manager 
  • Shantae Johnson, Mudbone Grown, Unity Farm Manager 
  • Amber Hansen, Health Care Without Harm, Regional Program Manager 

What’s Next? 
The Accelerator kicks off in April and run through the summer of 2022. The Wallace Center will share regular updates from the Accelerator through its Food Systems Leadership Network. Be sure to sign up here for opportunities to learn alongside accelerator participants, and visit this page to learn more about the accelerator and teams! We look forward to sharing the progress and learnings from their work over the next 18 months. 

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