Unlocking Our Food Systems Change Capacity: A Network Leadership Retreat

May 7-10, 2019

University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire

Are you a local, regional, or national food systems network leader hungry for new ways to shift the food system through collective action? Eager to connect with fellow network leaders, learn new skills, and challenge old ways of thinking? Then join the Wallace Center’s Food Systems Leadership Network, Food Solutions New England, and 25 of your peers in Durham, New Hampshire this May for a unique convening and retreat for food systems network leaders. 

"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)

Why Network Leaders?

Network leaders need a unique set of skills to foster and activate the collective will and action required to bring about systems change.

Network leadership isn’t embodied in any one person or organization alone; rather, it is realized through a group of people harmonizing their vision for the future they want to create and aligning their actions so that the sum of what they do together exceeds what they can do separately.

This retreat will focus on three interconnected skills of network 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 network 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 networks and 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 Spring 2019 Network Leadership Retreat will build on the experience of the Wallace Center’s Systems Leadership Retreats and Food Solutions New England’s Network Leadership Institutes (http://www.foodsolutionsne.org/leadership-institute) and will be held this May at the University of New Hampshire’s Browne Center in Durham, New Hampshire. The retreat will be hosted by the Wallace Center and co-led by Karen Spiller of KAS Consulting and Curtis Ogden of the Interaction Institute for Social Change. Both Karen and Curtis have been deeply involved in the work of Food Solutions New England and are experienced facilitators. In addition, they share an appointment as Thomas W. Haas Professors of Sustainable Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire.

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.
  • Improved 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.
  • A way to unlock the learning and wisdom of individuals in groups: you will experience peer coaching, a structured tool to help leaders and community members answer their own questions with support from others.
  • New ways to see: we will connect with several transformative food systems change programs in the region to learn about the models used to successfully coordinate networks across New England.
  • A peer support network: you will meet and spend meaningful time with fellow network leaders who share your passion for change and wrestle with similar challenges, and in the months following the retreat you'll have opportunities to remain in relationship and solidarity through peer and one-on-one coaching.

What to Expect:

Spring 2019 Retreat Schedule (tentative):

Tuesday, May 7th --participant travel to Durham, NH, opening reception.

Day 1: Wednesday, May 8th-- Workshop in the morning and afternoon, evening dinner at the Browne Center.

Day 2: Thursday, May 9th—Workshop in the morning, afternoon field visit, evening dinner on your own.

Day 3: Friday, May 10th - Morning reflection & workshops, closing circle, group lunch, afternoon departure. 

Some Logistics:

  • Workshops and most meals will occur at the Browne Center, a beautiful facility located on 103 acres and 1 hour from Boston;
  • Lodging options are available 10 minutes away in Durham and room block information will be sent to participants;
  • Vans will transport participants to and from the Browne Center, and Day 2's field visit.
  • It is expected that participants arrive the evening of Tuesday, May 7th and remain with the group throughout the Retreat, departing from the Browne Center no sooner than noon EST on Friday, May 10th.


  • This opportunity is available to staff and leaders from non-profit 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.
  • This retreat will focus on the unique potential and challenges of leading networks, and will prioritize individuals leading networks at local, state, and national levels.
  • Priority will be given to food systems leaders of color and to individuals serving historically disinvested or excluded communities.

Application Requirements

  • 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).
  • Retreat participants are required to complete an evaluation survey following the retreat.

Applications are closed.

The Wallace Center will cover the cost of Retreat materials, most meals, and transportation during the Retreat. We ask participants to cover their own costs of travel to and from Durham and their lodging during the retreat. A limited number of scholarships will be available to support lodging and transportation to/from Durham, NH for those who would otherwise be unable to participate due to lack of funds.

Interested in learning more?

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.