Preventing Truancy in Colorado focuses on Radical Possibilities, a prevention pilot run by La Plata Youth Services, providing an overview of community in school partnerships and the importance of the community in addressing truancy, as well as the process and experiences of Radical Possibilities. The purpose of the pilot is to learn and document the causal factors of truancy, effective prevention strategies to keep youth in school and on track, academically and socially while increasing school and student engagement, and the systems changes needed to successfully address truancy.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 11, 2016
Sophie Oppenheimer, Spark Policy Institute & Colorado Farm to School Task Force
Abbie Brewer, Valley Food Partnership
Western Slope Wins $90k to Support Farmers
The Colorado Farm to School Task Force and CoBank join forces to support farm to school
The Western Slope, headed by the Valley Food Partnership, won a $90k grant to support local producers who would like to sell their produce directly to local schools, but face structural hurdles. Now underway, the program will reimburse farmers – up to $10k per farm – for any investments they make that will improve on-farm food safety. In exchange, farmers must demonstrate increased sales of fruits and vegetables to local schools.
The Colorado Farm to School Task Force and CoBank joined forces to create this pilot program in an effort to support farm to school in the region. The funding was allocated through a regional competition between Western Slope, the North Front Range, and the South Front Range. Regions identified a lead community-based organization, at least two school districts, and at least five local farmers to apply for the grant.
The Western Slope area, known as the state’s “fruit basket”, is well-situated to take full advantage of this program. “We couldn’t be more pleased to see the Western Slope area win the competition. We are confident the program will help them significantly expand the supply of local fruits and vegetables sold to their schools” said Sarah Tyree, Vice President of Government Affairs at CoBank.
The innovative program directly addresses food safety, which is a major barrier for producers to sell to schools. While many small- to mid-sized producers sell directly to consumers, such as at farmers’ markets, selling to most schools necessitates they have formal farm food safety plans. This poses a big jump in costs and time. The pilot program directly addresses this barrier by providing a supply-side investment in farm to school. Ultimately, this investment will promote a healthier Colorado by expanding the amount of local produce sold to schools and a stronger economy by increasing the number of producers selling produce to schools.
Lyn Kathlene from Spark Policy Institute said, “This initiative will make Colorado a vanguard in the Farm to School movement. Very few states in the country are approaching the supply side of Farm to School expansion by investing in on-farm food safety improvements.”
Eight growers joined in the grant application. Joining them are two school districts – Montrose and Mesa – which have begun buying local produce and want to buy a great deal more. Valley Food Partnership is the community lead partner and brings a strong track record of implementing local food programs. Spark Policy Institute will be evaluating the impact of the pilot program to see if on-farm food safety investments help farmers participate in the school food marketplace. If successful, the Colorado Farm to School Task Force and CoBank hope to expand the program to other regions.
About Valley Food Partnership
Located in the heart of Western Colorado’s Uncompahgre Valley, the Valley Food Partnership includes a diverse group of stakeholders who are dedicated to growing the local food system while improving the health of their citizens and economy. To learn more, visit: www.valleyfoodpartnership.org
About the Colorado Farm to School Task Force
In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado Farm to School Task Force to “study, develop, and recommend policies and methods to best implement a Farm to School program.” Composed of 15 appointed members and 12 ex-officios, the Task Force has produced a wealth of resources and oversees programs that benefit producers and schools. To learn more, visit: www.coloradofarmtoschool.org
About Spark Policy Institute
Spark Policy Institute develops innovative, research-based approaches to help foundations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations solve complex societal problems that defy easy solutions. To learn more, visit: www.sparkpolicy.com
CoBank is a national cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. In addition to serving its direct retail borrowers, the bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving approximately 75,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country. CoBank is headquartered outside Denver, Colorado. To learn more, visit: www.cobank.com
The Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado Farm to School Task Force (Task Force), an unfunded entity composed of 13 (now 15) appointed seats to “develop regional farm-to-school networks across the state” in 2010. Today, the Task Force is not only poised to sunset itself ahead of schedule but Food Tank has recognized it in their “116 Orgs You Might Not Have Heard About, But Should Know in 2016,” a list of organizations from around the world “deserving of the spotlight because of their vital contributions to creating a better food system.”
At their first meeting, the diverse set of members were raring to go. None of them had a full understanding of farm to school (FTS) in Colorado; yet, each had a wealth of knowledge of particular aspects that directly or indirectly touched on FTS. Two major “ah-ha’s” came out of that initial meeting:
- One, that there were literally over a hundred people or organizations identified as important to fostering FTS in Colorado; and
- Two, that a task force – composed of appointed members required to meet quarterly – could not possibly do this work without dedicated staff.
Spark was selected to support the Task Force and got down to the nitty gritty work of figuring out how to harness the energy, skills, and passion in a way that would allow the task force to reach their end goal of statewide FTS in Colorado. Our first step was to help the Task Force create a strategic roadmap to both understand and find their unique contribution to FTS within the complex, messy intersecting systems of school food procurement, local food systems, public health, public education and all the local, state, and federal laws and regulations governing each sector. After five hours of hard work and hundreds of sticky notes the FTS roadmap took shape, thus setting the framework for five years of systematically pursing the Task Force’s end of the road “collaborative, sustainable, farm to school statewide.” As the backbone, Spark was integral to the journey.
Is backbone just a fancy name for staff?
In short, no! Backbones often do much of what a staff would do for an organization – coordinate and facilitate meetings, pull together materials, outreach to key stakeholders – but backbones are central to the work of an initiative, ensuring the sum is far greater than its collective parts. Among the key skills backbones provide are:
- Strategic systems thinking;
- Building trust among the usual suspects;
- Bringing together new partners;
- Employing highly specialized skills such as research of best practices, data collection and analysis, development of tools and trainings, and tactical funding strategies; and
- Ultimately, transforming groups into change agents.
How has the backbone work contributed to the growth of FTS in Colorado? We’ve pulled together some great examples of Spark’s work as the backbone over the years, including examples of how we’ve:
- Guided vision and strategy;
- Supported aligned activities;
- Established shared measurement practices;
- Built public will;
- Advanced policy; and
- Mobilized funding.
Colorado is now a national leader in FTS in terms of the Task Force model, the innovative practices being implemented, and the sheer growth in the number of school districts engaged in FTS. Since 2010, FTS in Colorado has grown nearly five-fold: from 22 districts in 2010 to 105 districts in 2014. Schools are now spending nearly $18 million dollars on local food, supporting local economies and local farmers!
Messy, complex systems work like FTS needs a backbone to support all the moving parts – from crafting a vision, working with aligned stakeholders, establishing shared methods of measurement, building public will, advancing policy, and mobilizing funding. And a backbone – like the amazing partners surrounding it – is in it for the long haul! Backbones are critical to any systems change initiative.
Are you working on a multi-system or collective impact initiative and want to learn more about how Spark can support you? Check us out and get in touch – we love challenges that will make the world a better place!