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Shifting Power to Communities Through Participatory Grantmaking

How can we redesign food and nutrition programs to serve communities that are furthest from systemic power? How might we concentrate more power and resources in communities that are most directly impacted?

Members of the Healthy Food Community of Practice have explored these questions in partnership with local communities through pilot projects funded by participatory grants made by their peers in the Healthy Food Community. Since 2021 the Healthy Food Community has administered three rounds of participatory grants, totaling $350,000 in 7 grants to 6 organizations working in partnership with others.

The purpose of the funding is to catalyze new ideas or strengthen ongoing efforts to help ensure that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) and communities kept furthest from power, can access and consume healthy food. The grant opportunities have had a specific focus on directing power and resources into communities facing systemic barriers to healthy food. Grants have allowed organizations to test new ways of working, to center communities in new or deeper ways, and to more deeply collaborate with one another.

The community of practice agreed to make these grants using a participatory process as another way to practice shifting power and resources. As one community member shared, "The participatory grant making experience feels like we are putting some of our principles to practice which I find invaluable."

Community of practice members made grant decisions, using a scoring and voting process that considers the following criteria:

  • Projects ensure at least 50 percent of the funding is spent on or given to the communities closest to the issues (e.g., communities that have faced systemic barriers to healthy food access and consumption, including Black, Indigenous, Latinx, elderly, and rural communities).

  • Projects concentrate power in communities facing systemic barriers to healthy food access and consumption.

  • Projects accelerate the community of practice’s goal of strengthening/scaling solutions that increase the ability of households experiencing food insecurity, particularly those in communities that have faced systemic barriers to access and consume healthier foods.

  • Projects foster deep and inclusive ways of partnering and collaborating.

The first three rounds of participatory grants supported the following projects:

  • Breath of My Heart Birthplace and the NM Food Depot to partner with local farmers and growers to increase food access with low-income families of color and encourage Indigenous foods as a vital part of post-partum wellness to our Indigenous clients and families in need of extra support.

  • Common Threads, Englewood Community Kitchens at the Primo Center, Oakwood Shores, Englewood Connect, Growing Home, and Cedillo’s Fresh Produce to engage residents in the Englewood and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods in Chicago in creating recipe content for community-based nutrition education.

  • The Healthy Food Community’s Nutrition Education Pod, a collaboration among several organizations working in the nutrition education space, to support the development of a framework institutions could use to re-examine, re-design, and re-imagine their nutrition education program models and evaluations to be more culturally competent and inclusive.

  • National Council on Aging, Benefits Enrollment Center, and Rio Arriba County Department of Health and Human Services to reintroduce Indigenous foods into the diets of Tribal elders in Santa Clara Pueblo, NM, and connect them with other sources of food assistance. (Learn more about this project here.) National Council on Aging also partnered with the Native American Disability Law Center Benefits Enrollment Center to later expand the effort to the Kykotsmovi Village of the Hopi Nation.

  • Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, in partnership with Más Fresco initiative to support the Spanish translation and adaptation of validated food insecurity needs assessment tools .

  • The Yurok Food Villages Project, a collaboration among several Yurok tribal organizations and national and community partner organizations, to promote food sovereignty through the purchase of equipment needed to produce fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables in remote communities on the Yurok Indian Reservation.

The community of practice is planning on an additional round or participatory grants in 2023. In addition, the community is interested in learning more from the projects funded so far to inform how other organizations can work in partnership with local communities.

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