Partner Profile: Rogue Valley Food System Network
In this month's Partner Profile, we head to Medford, OR to speak with Alison Hensley-Sexauer, the Coordinator of the Rogue Valley Food System Network. We first connected with Alison and the RVFSN through the Gamechangers Lab and are so glad we did! RVFSN is bringing together a diversity of food systems organizations and individuals to support the development a robust regional food system - read on to learn more.
Before we speak about the RVFSN, we asked Alison to share a little about herself:
I love food and how it creates culture. I am a fierce advocate of working towards food systems that will work for generations to come and believe that it is very likely that my generation is one that is planting the seeds that will not be harvested in my lifetime.
Rogue Valley Food System Network Background:
Mission: We believe that good food has the power to foster healthy and happy lives, unify our community and even change the world. We envision a Rogue Valley that is celebrated for its healthy, sustainable soil; where everyone producing our food, from field to table, is a thriving participant in our local economy; and where locally grown and produced food is available to all.
Give us your elevator pitch!
Why was RVFSN formed?
RVFSN was formed in response to many years of community work and organizing around food systems, which led to the implementation of community food assessments in 2012 and 2013 in Josephine and Jackson Counties. The steering committee who worked through these assessments saw the need for a more formalized structure to continue the work identified in the Assessment and action plan.
Who do you serve?
We serve everyone who eats in the Rogue Valley.
What specific needs are you addressing?
The Rogue Valley Food System Network is a group of individuals, organizations, and businesses that have joined together to strengthen our local food system through collaboration. The Network was formed in 2013 after a year-long community engagement effort that identified food system resources and needs. The action plan that emerged focuses on eight goals to improve access to local food, promote healthy eating, enhance social equity and develop economic vitality.
What is one thing that makes your organization stand out?
One thing that makes RVFSN stand out is the opportunity for diversity. We have a 15-seat council that determines the direction and future of the organization. This council body is one that represents the different sectors of a food system and with that very different needs and approaches.
Are there any organizations or individuals you look to as a role model in your work? Why? (Name just two please!)
Of Course! In the state of Oregon, we have several county-wide food networks or alliances, and we also work together with the Oregon Community Food System Network. There are a couple that have been pivotal in paving the way:
High Desert Food & Farming Alliance has done an amazing job of developing relationships in Eastern Oregon as well as some key programs that are the foundation of their work.
Systems Leadership Approach
How does RVFSN partner with others to catalyze systems change?
Collaboration with others is at the root of the Network. Our council is made up of 15 members, each representing different sectors of the food system, from farmers, executive directors of nonprofits, healthcare, education, chefs, business owners, and food access. More than just diverse representation from across the food system, our council members engage in cross-sector collaboration to share resources, strengths, and knowledge for collective impact to change our food system.
Given what you know now, what is one thing you wish you’d done differently as the organization developed?
I just came on board last year and was not around for the beginning of the organization, but I have had to study the founding documents. The organization started as a steering committee and a large group of committed volunteers. It wasn’t until 2 years ago that we formalized into a non-profit, merging with one of the nonprofits that had participated in the process since the beginning but was ready to sunset. The process of merging has been a sticky one, and in that process, RVFSN has had to more clearly define itself than ever before. That is a real blessing. This work can be nebulous and complex at times so having a clearly defined mission and vision for the organization has been very supportive.
What is one of RVFSN’s proudest achievements?
For the members who have been in the organization since the beginning, I think one of the proudest moments is that of having successfully transitioned to new leadership after many years. The transition of leadership can be one of the most challenging aspects of a growing organization and RVFSN has been fortunate to attract a great team.
What is one challenge you’re facing right now? Anything your fellow FSLN members might be able to help with?
Our greatest challenge right now is how to balance the need for raising funds and gaining financial sustainability while honoring the role of being a convener whose mission is to support and catalyze other food-related businesses and non-profits in the region. We are consistently fine-tuning our approach and always keeping an eye out for how to bring people together for funding opportunities.
Any quotes or words of wisdom that you find inspiring during this season?
“Ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected because deep ecological awareness, ultimately, is spiritual awareness” – Fritjov Capra
Thanks, Alison, for sharing the work of RVFSN with the rest of the network!