By Jerry Ford • SFA Interim Executive Director
Previously, I wrote about my perception that SFA is at a crossroads, and how the decisions that we make now will have a great impact on whether we will continue to be effective and relevant as we move into the future. I went on to talk about our organization’s past and how we got to where we are today.
Now, let’s talk about the present: where are we now?
First off, we are in good shape. The bills are being paid, the projects are surpassing expectations, and changes in our infrastructure are proving to be a great benefit. In the past three years, we’ve added three new chapters and five networking groups. Our events are successful, we have grown, and we are highly regarded.
Yes, our Executive Director has moved on, but the board has acted quickly and decisively to put an Interim E.D. in place (me) and to form a Search Committee to identify a new director. As Interim Executive Director (I do not intend to seek the permanent position), my job would normally be to see to it that the day-to-day business of the organization continues uninterrupted, and to keep SFA on course until the new E.D. takes over.
But there is more going on than just a shift in leadership: the entire sustainable farming/nonprofit/local foods world is changing. We’ve grown up. No longer the fair-haired child that everyone tries to help, we’re now an adult that’s being subtly told to get out of the house and get a job. I could cite several examples in the sustag/local foods community, from “peak CSA/farmers markets/food co-ops” to the changes in people’s behavior: yes, they will still shop at the co-op, but will they see organizations like SFA as worthy of their ongoing support?
The fashion has changed. Sustainable is more quotidian: something we just do as a lifestyle choice, not a charity that we’re going to support financially. The thinking could be described as, “Hey, I shop at the farmer’s market, and local foods seem to be in every restaurant and grocery store, so you must be doing OK.” We used to say things like, “What if even Walmart had an organic section?” Now, guess what? It does.
And the place where this sea change is most evident, at least to a nonprofit organization, is among the big funders, who started moving in a different direction – they feel like they’ve got us on our feet and we should be supporting ourselves. Government grants to nonprofits are generally a few years behind the trend, but they are starting to phase out or change focus, or are going to larger organizations.
In the big picture, that’s a good thing – we’ve accomplished a lot of the mission. But how do nonprofits, which generally rely heavily on foundation and government grants, support themselves now?
So, in addition to my assumed duties as Interim director, I feel that I must also kick-start the process of moving SFA in a new direction. This was paramount on the Board of Directors’ agenda at the last meeting, along with criteria for hiring a new E.D.
I have great confidence in our board, staff, members and supporters, and I believe we will make these changes successfully. In the third installment of this article, I’ll write about the vision for the future of SFA, and I’ll be asking for your input.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Jerry’s column for the 2016 CornerPost, SFA’s annual report. To read the entire column, click here to download the 2016-17 CornerPost.