Food Systems Team incorporates equity as intentional professional development

November 13, 2020

by Courtney Long, Bre Miller, Kaley Hohenshell and Chelsea Krist

The FFED food systems team offers many programs assisting communities in their place-based food system development. This includes farm to school programming, one-on-one technical assistance, and the Community Food Systems Program (CFS). CFS assists in the design and development of local and regional food systems through research, certifications and a facilitated community process.

Four women on Zoom screen.
Food Systems Team member meet to discuss equity issues. Clockwise from top left: Kaley Hohenshell, Courtney Long, Chelsea Krist and Bre Miller.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we sought opportunities to connect both professionally and socially while working virtually. This resulted in weekly meetings for sharing work updates and general discussion. These meetings transitioned to a dedicated space for equity-based professional and team development.

Getting personal

Our practice began in the spring through participation in the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. This is offered annually through Food Solutions New England. The Challenge is a free online resource that deepens understanding and awareness of racial equity in the food system (Food Solutions New England, 2020). It highlights the importance of learning about inequities in the food system and understanding its importance and relevance to our work. 

As the spring continued, equity also became more impactful to our daily lives living in Polk County and Story County. We experienced varying degrees of social movements in support of black lives. These included protests, county lockdowns and general lifting up of marginalized communities. This realization happening in our own communities us to more deeply embrace and understand the need for focus on equity.   

Our process consists of a rotating weekly schedule where a different team member selects a reading that is then discussed. These discussions are voluntary. They typically include reflection questions as well as open discussion on thoughts or questions about the reading. It was critical through this process that ground rules be established to build trust, respect and ensure authenticity.

Adapting the process

Over the last nine months, we have adapted our discussion methods to a more strategic facilitation format. This includes questions that coincide with the selected reading or topic. We also set guidelines to ensure the readings are credible and academic. Initially, discussions were held at the end of each team meeting. Now we hold a separate meeting on equity to allow for longer, more in-depth discussions. We also now incorporate quarterly check-ins to ensure that we are being inclusive and have options to make shifts as needed.

As a team of white women working in partnership with communities, it’s important to us to understand racial equity challenges and disparities happening in communities across Iowa and the United States. These conversations allow us to make a conscious effort to incorporate equitable decision making and relevant procedures in our work.

We also want to continue to increase our awareness and understanding of inequities in the food system. All of us believe it is important to use an equity lens in all the work we do. Incorporating intentional time and space for learning and discussion is one way of coming together during a critical time to create deeper understanding and awareness.

Reflections from the team

“These weekly discussions have been an excellent opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and improve my awareness of racial equity. The quarterly check-ins are also great because they allow us to look back on previous discussions and readings, as well as reflect on our personal growth.”

~ Bre Miller

“I have enjoyed using this professional development space as a way to connect and build stronger relationships with team members during this uncertain year. Equity, particularly racial equity, cannot be ignored in our work. Exploring this as a group has given me the support I need to lean in to my vulnerabilities and educate myself.”

~ Kaley Hohenshell

“Equity as professional development is needed throughout our work. This ‘informal’ processing time has allowed for deeper discussions, and some discomfort, for our team to learn, think and share together as we process current and historical oppression within our food system. I am hopeful that these conversations will not only continue to grow our interpersonal relationships and understanding of one another, but also broaden our views of our work within food systems and yield open perspectives and a vast lens on the various lived experience within food systems.”

~ Courtney Long

“Farm to school and early care exists because racial inequity exists, intersecting across agricultural and educational systems. I think it’s essential to hold and apply this understanding to all aspects of food systems work. Racial injustice is systemic, and we must get this in order to interrupt systems that perpetuate inequitable outcomes. Holding this space for learning and discussion and been valuable for growing understanding, sharing resources, and making shifts in why and how I do my work.”

~ Chelsea Krist

“I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in these equity discussions. Not only did they allow me to self-reflect, educate and grow as an individual, but also allowed our team to become closer and build trust amongst one another by stepping outside of our comfort zones.”

~ Sydney Peterson (communications intern)

Related resources