By Jerry Ford • SFA Interim Executive Director
“Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley
The great poets tell us that one thing we can always count on is change, and this is certainly true for the Sustainable Farming Association. Not only are we going through internal changes – leadership, technology, financial, structural – but the whole milieu of sustainable agriculture is changing as well. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I firmly believe that it will all turn for the better. But change is rarely easy.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about these changes.
SFA is at a crossroads: decisions that we make now will have a great impact on whether we will continue to be effective in the coming years. However, if we hold to our core mission and values while changing our tactics, practices and strategies, I’m confident we will continue to be relevant and thrive.
Six years ago, SFA was at a crossroads when we hired John Mesko as our second Executive Director. Under the direction of our first E.D., Mary Jo Forbord, we put some great programs in place, our structure improved, and we were an effective influence in the state’s sustainable ag movement. But the grant money that helped to implement these changes was ending, with no new sources in site, and Mary Jo was moving on to a new position.
So, one of the primary directives to the incoming E.D. was to find new funding, and John did this in spades. He lined up a series of foundation and government grants – Adjust 2015, Pasture Project, Beginning Farmer Rancher Programs, S.A.R.E grants, McKnight Foundation – that funded some very relevant projects and increased our ability to serve our chapters and members through technology, services and staff.
In short order, the Board of Directors worked with John to develop a new Strategic Plan. One of the core ideas of this plan was find our “sweet spot”: where do we fit in the world of sustainable agriculture? What is it that sets us apart from all the other nonprofits, agencies and players in this area? And what are the strengths and resources that we can use most effectively without duplicating what others are already doing? Out of this came a refined identity as we trademarked the phrase Farmer-to-Farmer Network©, which encapsulated our core values as a grassroots, bottom-up organization that focuses on the “wisdom of the community” and works primarily at the local level.
This has served us well, and these core principles are still as relevant today.
John and the board also approved policies that enhanced our chapters – a critical component of our grassroots structure and the farmer network – one of which was that all income generated by a chapter would stay in that chapter, including all membership dues designated to a chapter. The Association also invested in significant infrastructure improvements such as a powerful combined database, unified accounting and finances, website upgrades, and new branding and logo – all of which strengthened our chapter structure at a time when it needed help.
We also created Networking Groups as a way for people of particular interests to network together regardless of what region they live in. At that time, in keeping with the policy that all chapter funds stay in the chapter accounts, it was decided that there would be no cost-share for the networking groups that were forming.
The idea was that we would get a lot more names on our mailing list (we did), and those people would be more likely to join, donate or attend an event. But the thing that really made this possible was that the grants we were working under had funds allocated to “operational costs.” And that’s another one of the changes we’re seeing: those kinds of grants are all but gone.
Two weeks from now, I’ll look at the present status of SFA and how external and internal changes are affecting us.