Unlocking Our Food Systems Change Capacity: A Systems Leadership Retreat

April 27-30, 2020
Canby Grove Camp and Retreat Center, Canby, Oregon
Applications Closed

Leading food systems change can be extraordinarily exciting and fulfilling while simultaneously complex and time-consuming. It takes dedication, persistence, and a holistic set of skills and tools to not only deeply understand the forces at play, but also to foster and facilitate the collective leadership needed to shift them. Having the space to explore new ways of thinking while tapping into the collective wisdom, strength, and knowledge of this community has the power to rejuvenate, inspire, and create a lasting support network.

The FSLN’s Food Systems Leadership Retreats provide FSLN members with the time and space to learn, practice, and refine the tools of systems leadership, reflect upon their personal and professional leadership journeys, and build relationships of solidarity with their peers.
"What has most changed about my understanding of systems leadership since this retreat is that I always knew it would take broad based collaboration to make change, but I didn't really see any movement big enough to actually have the potential to accomplish that change. This retreat is the first time I've seen sparks of that potential." - New Orleans Food Systems Leadership Retreat participant (Summer 2018) 

About the Food Systems Leadership Retreats  
Leadership Retreats are 2.5-day facilitated convenings of food systems leaders that dig deep into the tools of systems leadership and systems thinking for social change. Participants will be guided through hands-on, experiential workshops that will strengthen leadership skills, offer new tools for mapping and finding the change levers in the systems they are working on, and support their growth as effective facilitators of community change processes. 

We take a regional approach to these Retreats in order to more intentionally foster relationships and collaborations amongst individuals working in similar geographies and contexts. This retreat will convene leaders from the Northwest region of the US who are working on equitable economic development through food and agriculture. See the "eligibility" section below for details.

Together, we will explore three interconnected skills of food systems leaders: 

  • The ability to see and understand the whole system we are trying to change (systems thinking); 
  • The skill of enabling others to see the system for what it is (facilitation of reflection and dialogue); and 
  • The ability to serve as a leader grounded in racial equity, inclusion, and a shared vision for the future (leading from the future). 

Food systems leaders must be grounded in racial equity and inclusion; progress is not possible without actively and consistently addressing and dismantling inequities through the work we do. When we embody this, we can more meaningfully engage our communities in the process of transformative change and collectively create the world we want to live in. As we develop new eyes for seeing the systems in which we work, we’ll look to the core of the patterns we seek to change, challenging popular ways of thinking and doing. It’s a tall order, but the results of this approach to leadership are truly profound. 

The Retreats are co-designed and facilitated by the Wallace Center and 10 Circles, a leading consultancy in systems thinking and systems leadership that has worked with a wide diversity of organizations to successfully facilitate change and collaboration across the food system. Together, we have convened over 80 FSLN members for Food Systems Leadership Retreats in Detroit, MI in 2017, New Orleans, LA and Kansas City, MO in 2018, and Durham, NH in 2019. Read more about 10 Circles here.

Because we believe these skills are so important for leaders on the front lines of systems change, all participants receive full scholarships covering tuition and room & board for the duration of the Retreat. We have a limited number of travel scholarships available to those where these costs present a financial hardship and would limit their ability to participate.

What You'll Gain: 
Over the course of 2.5 days, you can expect to walk away with: 

  • Inspiration: a new way to see your work and your leadership from a systems-change lens. 
  • Strengthened facilitation skills: whether you have led one meeting or hundreds, you will have the opportunity to practice facilitation skills that you can take home to help you bring your community together. 
  • Systems thinking tools: moving beyond theories of change, you will get tools that help you diagnose the vicious cycles that keep your community from creating the future it wants - and how to change that. 
  • Methods of unlocking the learning and wisdom of individuals in groups: you will experience peer coaching strategies to help leaders and community members answer their own questions with support from others. 
  • A peer support network: you will meet and spend meaningful time with fellow food systems leaders who share your passion for change and wrestle with similar challenges. In the months following the retreat you'll have opportunities to remain in relationship and solidarity with your peers.

What to Expect:
Spring 2020 Retreat schedule (tentative):

  • Monday, April 27: participant travel to Canby, Oregon. Evening opening session: 7pm – 9pm.
  • Day 1, Tuesday, April 28: Workshops in the morning, afternoon, and evening
  • Day 2, Wednesday, April 29: Workshops in the morning and afternoon. Evening free
  • Day 3: Thursday, April 30: Morning reflection and workshops, closing circle, group lunch, departures at 2:30pm

Some Logistics:

  • Workshops and most meals will occur at the Canby Grove Camp & Retreat Center
  • The Retreat Center is approximately 45 minutes from the Portland International Airport.
  • It is expected that participants arrive at the retreat center by 6pm on Monday, April 27 and remain with the group throughout the Retreat, departing from the Retreat Center no sooner than 2:30pm PST on Thursday, April 30
  • The Wallace Center will coordinate two shuttles from the Portland airport to and from the retreat center on travel days. Participants can either coordinate and cover the cost of their own travel or sign up to ride in a shuttle.


  • This opportunity is available to staff and leaders from nonprofit 501 (c)3 organizations and organizations with fiscal sponsors. Teams of 2 from one organization or from several organizations that work closely together are encouraged to apply. 
  • Priority will be given to food systems leaders who are working on equitable economic development through food and agriculture and leaders of color and to individuals serving historically disinvested or excluded communities 
  • Priority will be given to applicants from the Northwest region of the US, specifically Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, northern California and northern Nevada.

Application Instructions

  • See the top of the page for a link to the application. 
  • Applicants must complete and submit an organizational capacity assessment as part of their application.  
  • Applicants and their organizations must both be verified members of the FSLN (Sign up your organization here). 
  • Applications are open from February 4 - February 27

Interested in learning more? 

  • Read up on systems leadership with this introductory article   
  • Explore systems leadership resources and join the conversation in this Systems Leadership Discussion Group 
  • View a past Food Systems Leadership Retreat agenda 
  • Register for the Non-Profit Boot Camp eLearning Series on Systems Leadership! (PS. Retreat participants are encouraged to join live or view the recordings and engage with the material provided in advance of attending the Retreat)
Curious about what previous retreatants had to say about their experience?
  • "I did not know what to expect and left feeling like I had received something I had so needed and did not realize." - New Orleans Food Systems Leadership Retreat participant (Summer 2018)
  • "I hope to be able to share some of the tools with my team and implement them individually. For example, I know I can utilize the Dialogue Walk right away. Other tools, like Forcefield Analysis, Mental Models and the Iceberg Model, are things that I think can be incorporated into our theory of change process and strategic planning." - New Orleans Food Systems Leadership Retreat participant (Summer 2018)
  • "It reiterated the importance of taking a step back to really understand causation at a deep level. It is easy to get caught up in the day to day, but a real systems leader will take the time to step back to assess the root cause of the problem." - Detroit Food Systems Leadership Retreat participant (Fall 2017) 
  •  "It has changed the way I do my day­ to­ day work and how I think about myself." – FSNE Network Leadership Institute retreatant.
  • "It provides crucial reflective time … to engage in understanding anti-racist work and visions what you want for yourself.” – FSNE Network Leadership Institute retreatant

Questions? Email fslninfo@winrock.org with 'Leadership Retreats' in the subject line, or call Susan at (501)280-3076.