Fall 2018 Kansas City Food Systems Leadership Retreat Recap

Hey FSLN! We hosted our second Food Systems Leadership Retreat of 2018 at the end of October in Kansas City, MO and wanted to share with you some of the highlights. But first, you might be wondering…what are these retreats all about? The Food Systems Leadership Retreat is a 2.5 day convening for food systems leaders that seeks to strengthen our collective ability to re-imagine and effectively create change at scale in our food system. This isn’t a typical leadership course! During this retreat, we’re focusing on systems leadership—the ability to create collective leadership. Collective leadership isn’t embodied in one person alone. It’s when a large group of people harmonize their vision for the future they want to create and align their actions so that the sum of what they do together exceeds what any one person can do alone. As leaders in our communities, we need a unique set of skills to foster and activate that kind of collective will and action. During the retreat, we focus on the three distinct but interconnected skills of system leaders: the ability to see and understand the whole system we are trying to change (systems thinking); the ability to get others to really talk and listen to what matters (facilitation of reflection and dialogue); and the ability to shift from problem-solving to creating the future we want to see (leading from the future). When we embody these skills, we are better able to meaningfully engage our communities in the process of transformative change and collectively create the world we want to live in. It’s a tall order, but the results of this approach to leadership are truly profound. We’ve been developing this retreat curriculum for the past year and half in partnership with Joseph McIntyre, Founding Principal of 10 Circles and co-founder of the Academy for Systems Change (https://www.academyforchange.org/). Our first Leadership Retreat was piloted out last fall (2017) in Detroit and, what began as a 1.5-day, action-packed intensive, has since become a 2.5-day, action-packed retreat. Through participant feedback, we continue to improve and modify the agenda and curriculum – we’re excited to engage with participants to help guide the next evolution of the retreat. More on evals below! Okay, so what all did we get up to in Kansas City?! During this retreat, co-facilitated by Joseph McIntyre and Christina Garza of the Social Change Institute, we were joined by 24 food systems leaders from across the middle part of the country and a few outliers (Oregon and Massachusetts!) at the Heartland Retreat Center in Kansas City, MO. Much of the first day was spent connecting with each other and learning tools like the Iceberg Model and Balancing Loops that can assist us as we seek to see – and diagnose – the system we are operating in. That evening the group went into Kansas City for a dinner and evening panel at Thelma’s Kitchen, a “donate-what-you-can-pricing” restaurant that seeks to transform Troost Avenue in KC from a dividing line to a gathering place. Over a delicious meal made from local produce donations, participants heard from local leaders about the successes and challenges they’re facing as they work towards creating a more equitable food system. Major thanks to the panelists for sharing your wisdom and time with us: • Tina Khan and Kolia Souza, Center for Engagement and Community Development, Kansas State University (https://www.k-state.edu/cecd/) • Dre Taylor, Nile Valley Aquaponics (http://nilevalleyaquaponics.com/) • Katherine Kelly, CultivateKC (https://www.cultivatekc.org/) • Emily Brown, Food Equality Initiative (https://foodequalityinitiative.org/) • Katie Nixon, West Central Missouri Community Action Agency (https://wcmcaa.org/) On Day Two the morning began with a Learning Journey to Nile Valley Aquaponics hosted by Dre Taylor (yep, from our dinner panel!) to hear more about his experience creating a mentorship program, an urban aquaponics farm, and a true sense of community in his neighborhood. As conveners, we tried to stick to our timeline, but as you can imagine, it was difficult pulling people away from such a dynamic place and individual! That afternoon participants dug into facilitation of community dialogue, the power of good questions, and Peer Coaching, a method of problem solving and reflection that can be used for personal and community groups. In fact, retreat participants have found Peer Coaching to be so useful that we now facilitate optional Peer Coaching sessions following the retreat. It just so happens that this retreat fell around Halloween, and Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead. On the evening of Day Two, one of the facilitators, Christina, offered to share her personal experience and relationship with Dia de los Muertos and how it can relate to our journey as food systems leaders. This was a great session that offered not only insight into Dia de los Muertos, but provided space for each of us – facilitators, conveners, and participants - to reflect internally on what we need to let go of and who we need to honor as we continue our leadership journeys. The activity closed with a group dialogue where we put our facilitation skills into practice by soliciting questions from each other. We wrapped up the evening around a bonfire, enjoying the crisp fall weather and the inspiring and comforting company of our peers. During the final morning session, we took a reflective look within ourselves to examine our deepest aspirations in this work. Joseph and Christina offered tools to help guide us as we act on our aspirations and design the change we wish to see. As conveners, we hope participants left the retreat with new tools for their toolbox and new relationships to feed their soul as we work together towards systems change. So, to wrap up, it was a busy few days where participants got a taste of the change underway in Kansas City, were introduced to and practiced new tools, and connected with peers. As the evaluations continue to come through, it’s clear we’ll continue to evolve the curriculum (more time for active engagement with the content and with each other!), but we’ll close this story with a few takeaways participants have shared with us about their experience: • “We all have our superpowers and super-weaknesses—it’s important to reflect on these and use them to build authentic, impact-oriented relationships for change.” • “There were so many tools that we learned that will help to reshape how I approach my work, so I really appreciated the practical aspects of what we learned.” • “It affirmed a lot of things I’d been thinking, but also brought to light some things I needed to hear again.” • “I was dangerously close to burn out again, and this was exactly what I needed to push me through.” Thank you to all of the KC Leadership Retreat participants for coming together and being part of this experience. As conveners, we continue to be inspired by the amazing work you all do in your communities and are truly honored to support you in your efforts. Questions about the content or about future retreats? Check out the Food Systems Leadership Retreat page or contact us at FSLNinfo@winrock.org with any questions.

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