The MSFSC is a strategic body that identifies, prioritizes, and coordinates food-system improvements in the 5-county Mid-Shore region, with an eye toward improving community resilience and triple-bottom-line sustainability.
The Mid-Shore of Maryland is the heart of our state’s agricultural economy. Taken together, the Mid-Shore counties of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot comprise only 21.8% of Maryland’s land mass, only 3.0% of its population, yet contains 31.6% of the state’s farm land. Culturally, the Eastern Shore of Maryland has a unique identity that emphasizes independence, isolation, small communities, rural landscapes, and a rich heritage of both agriculture and commercial fisheries.
Regionally, agriculture benefits from proximity to major urban populations, which are primary markets for the poultry industry that is, in turn, fed by the grain farming that dominates the region. Since World War II, the grain-and-poultry industry has enjoyed strong growth in the region, and is the foundation of the regional economy, contributing 82.1% of the total market value of agricultural products sold.
Recently, however, the region has been affected by an evolving understanding of the ecological linkages between farming practices and Chesapeake Bay watershed health; associated and rapidly evolving regulations; current practices and public health. In addition, community efforts to improve regional food security, hunger, and labor conditions for agricultural employees are driving changes in the regional conversation. Indicators of hunger and food insecurity in the region, coupled with indicators of diet-related disease and mortality, make plain the opportunity for improvements in the regional food system. Such improvements might include changes to regional and state policies about food and agriculture, better networking between producers and consumers, and increased education about food, nutrition, and local economics.
The Mid-Shore Food System Coalition (MSFSC) has seized this opportunity to build a regional dialogue and a coalition of willing partners to assess the performance, equity, and sustainability of the Mid-Shore food system. In the past year, the MSFSC has begun building relationships between all participants in the food system; identifying participants’ needs, desires, and current positions; and looking for opportunities to create positive changes while protecting the rural economy, the Chesapeake Bay, and regional consumers. More than a food policy council, and more than a regional agricultural voice, the MSFSC seeks to knit together concerns from all stakeholders in the food system, with the goal of enacting changes that benefit all parties.
What are our challenges and opportunities to create a food system that works better for all of us here?During 2015, The Town Creek Foundation of Easton, Maryland, provided a grant to the Center for Leadership in Environmental Education (CLEEn) at Chesapeake College to investigate the potential for a fully functional food council for the Mid-Shore. The grant sought to answer the following questions:
- How do food councils function in other states and local areas and how may that inform our work?
- What are the potential approaches to food system work in our region?
At the study’s conclusion, the formation of a Food System Coalition was suggested and is envisioned as a strategic body that identifies, prioritizes, and coordinates food-system improvements in the 5-county Mid-Shore region, with an eye toward improving community resilience and triple-bottom-line sustainability. The Coalition will consist of a constellation of talents and efforts to build, strengthen, and sustain the Mid-Shore, its community, and its authenticity.
Collective Impact Model
The organizing framework for the MSFSC is based on a collective impact model that maintains five elements:
- COMMON AGENDA – There must be agreement among network participants about the primary goal(s) of the effort. There does not need to be agreement on all dimensions of the issues being addressed, just about where we are heading.
- Common understanding of the problem
- Shared vision for change
- SHARED MEASUREMENT – Hand-in-hand with a common agenda, there must be agreement about how progress is being measured.
- Collecting data and measuring results
- Focus on performance management
- Shared accountability
- MUTUAL REINFORCEMENT– If the point is to coordinate and maximize impact, the activities among network organizations should be mutually reinforcing, to every extent possible.
- Differentiated approaches
- Willingness to adapt individual activities
- Coordination through joint plan of action
- CONTINUOUS COMMUNICATION – Achieving the three conditions above, across a network (particularly one that spans multiple counties and stakeholder groups, like MSFSC) requires constant and effective communication.
- Consistent and open communication
- Focus on building trust
- COORDINATION AND LEADERSHIP aka BACKBONE SUPPORT– What makes collective impact effective is the dedicated work of the organizations that make up the Coalition. As a result of this focus, most of them do not have the spare capacity to coordinate the ‘collective impact’. A key to success may be the designation of a “backbone organization” (MSFSC) that is specifically focused on facilitating this process, plus generating and managing resources to support the effort.
- Dedicated staff
- Resources and skills to convene and coordinate participating organizations
MSFSC aspires to identify and incubate specific mechanisms and connections that address challenges confronting our Mid-Shore food system, and raise awareness of these issues.
The Mid-Shore Food System of the future grows, provides access to, and makes available, healthy, safe, and sustainably and justly produced food. It engages Mid-Shore communities, responds to changes in the regional market and environment, and accounts for external costs and benefits when considering its economic contributions to the community.