Foodlink ‘gamechangers’ get to work

From left, Tom Silva, Florence Clemmons, Livia Marques and Margaret Liljedahl.

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A grant from the Wallace Center at Winrock International brought three Foodlink staffers down to New Orleans last week to participate in the center’s Food Systems Leadership Network (FSLN) inaugural Gamechangers Laboratory.

Foodlink applied to the grant opportunity this summer and survived a rigorous selection process to be one of three organizations out of dozens nationwide to join the lab. Florence Clemmons, Margaret Liljedahl and Tom Silva — who have all played key roles in Foodlink’s various community health programs — were charged with developing methods to shift Foodlink away from simply serving the community, to engaging with and working alongside community members to end hunger.

Here’s how Foodlink’s winning project was summarized by the Wallace Center:

“Traditional food banking alone cannot fix the inequities in our food system. Foodlink’s Community Health Team is seeking to transform the conventional model from community-based to community-driven and led, and explore how food banks can shift from social service to social change. This three-member team from Rochester, New York, with its community connections, innovative spirit, and history of collaboration will work in partnership with its Foodlink clients and community members to pilot new and lasting solutions.”

Clemmons has been a manager for the Curbside Market — Foodlink’s mobile farmers market — for more than six years, while Liljedahl leads Foodlink’s nutrition education department. Silva is Foodlink’s Community Advocacy Specialist and leads the Curbside Ambassadors Program, which empowers residents in affordable housing communities to advocate for the market and promote community health.

“We’re looking forward to working with the FSLN Gamechangers Lab to further develop our innovative community health programs and create action plans to democratize them by putting community members in the driver’s seat of their design and impact,” said Meg Demment, Foodlink’s Chief Impact Officer.

Two other grant-funded teams — ReFresh Food Collaborative of New Orleans and GRRO Good Bowls of North Carolina — also attended last week’s conference. The teams spent time learning how to apply structural thinking, design planning, and other tools to their community food projects. Foodlink worked with its adviser, Livia Marques, who led the United States Department of Agriculture’s “People’s Garden Initiative.” Marques took a program that began with a single garden at USDA headquarters in 2009, and transformed it into a movement that led to thousands of volunteers tending more than 1,600 gardens across every state and donating more than 1.3 million pounds of produce to neighborhood feeding programs.

Foodlink will go through a 6-month creative journey to design new strategies for tackling food insecurity through community-based food systems. In March, Foodlink will return to New Orleans and present their collective learnings to a national audience and a group of potential funders at the 2020 National Good Food Network Conference.

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