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Food Systems Networks That Work - Accelerating Learning and Increasing Commerce

We bring together conveners of food systems networks of many different sizes. Each has amplified and abetted the positive triple bottom line effects of its member businesses and organizations.


How do networks support farm and food business success?

You're incredibly busy in your work creating, processing, distributing or otherwise working with Good Food. Does it make sense to take time away from your work to participate in a network of others doing related work? Does sharing information with competitors reduce your market advantage, or increase it?

We bring together conveners of food systems networks of many different sizes: local, statewide, regional, and even national. Their networks have amplified and abetted the positive triple bottom line effects of member businesses and organizations. In other words, not only is the group as a whole stronger, but also each element of the group gets stronger.

Learn how joining, initiating, or strengthening an existing food system network can improve your regional food economy, and the strength of each business and organization in the network.

Whether you are a food hub, a producer, an extension agent, or a processor, learn the "how and why" of forming and belonging to a food systems network.



Presenter Bios

Rich Pirog

Rich PirogRich Pirog joined the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University as senior associate director in May 2011.  From October 1990 to May 2011 he was associate director and program leader for marketing and food systems at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  At the Leopold Center Pirog directed the Value Chain Partnerships (VCP) project, an Iowa-based network of food and agriculture working groups that provides technical assistance to farmer-led food businesses in Iowa.  Through VCP, Pirog led the Regional Food Systems Working Group, which focuses on making the case for investment in local and regional food businesses and networks.  There currently are 16 local food groups representing more than 80 Iowa counties that participate in the Regional Food Systems Working Group.  Pirog recently led the development of Iowa’s Local Food and Farm Plan, which was mandated by the Iowa legislature and includes funding and policy recommendations to develop a stronger local food economy in Iowa.

Pirog’s research and collaborations on local and place-based foods, food networks and communities of practice, food value chains, and ecolabels has been publicized in magazines and media outlets across the globe, used by local food practitioners, and are often cited in books and college courses.  In 2003, he received the Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award from Practical Farmers of Iowa, and in 2004, he received the Iowa State University College of Agriculture Award for Outstanding Achievement and Service.

Corry Bregendahl

Corry BregendahlCorry Bregendahl is an assistant scientist at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture where she conducts evaluation of agriculture, energy, and regional food system related efforts. She is also evaluator for the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Prior to joining the Leopold Center, she conducted research and evaluation of rural community development projects at the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. She holds an MS degree in Rural Sociology from Iowa State University.

Marty Gerencer

Marty GerencerMarty Gerencer has an extensive history with food businesses and regional food systems initiatives through community, state and national work. Since October 2002, Ms. Gerencer has owned and operated Morse Marketing Connections (MMC), a national food consulting agency that develops initiatives and networks to increase the supply of regionally produced food into the marketplace and to provide capacity building programs for communities, farmers, supply chains and food hubs.  MMC also focuses on building greater awareness for the importance of agriculture and food systems to the nation’s economy and health.  

In 2005, MMC initiated a statewide collaboration with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Michigan Food & Farming Systems for Michigan's first statewide Buy Local Day.  In 2008, MMC played a lead role in developing and launching the National Good Food Network (NGFN), an initiative of the Wallace Center.  MMC serves as a strategic partner for the NGFN, and plays a lead role and community of practice convener in current NGFN projects including the NGFN Food Hubs Collaboration, and Financial and Business Literacy Evaluation, Training and Outreach for Beginning Farmers, in partnership Farm Credit, supported by USDA.

Gerencer is also co-convener of the Michigan Food Hubs Learning and Innovation Network, in partnership with MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, and is launching a Community Food Learning Network as part of the HEALTHY Muskegon project, both in Michigan, supported by Kresge Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Karen Lehman

Karen Lehman

Karen Lehman is the director of Fresh Taste, a funder collaborative formed by several Illinois foundations and the City of Chicago to relocalize Chicago’s food system and improve equity of access to good food.  Fresh Taste partners are committed to changing the manner in which food is produced, distributed, and consumed in the Chicago region.  Karen’s food system work spans three decades, beginning with an award-winning PBS documentary on women’s leadership in farm movements.  She directed both the Local Food and Regional Economy programs at The Minnesota Project; co-founded and was co-director of the Youth Farm and Market Project in Minnesota; and directed the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Food and Agriculture Program.  Karen also held an endowed chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota, consulted with the Ford Foundation on rural development in Mexico, and received a Masters of Public Administration from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government as a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow.  Prior to Fresh Taste, Karen was a Senior Associate with Cambridge Leadership Associates.

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