PV Grows hosts a half day Forum twice each year. These events are open to the interested public and bring together a diverse group of individuals, businesses and organizations working toward a healthy, local food system. “Food systems” start in the farmers’ fields and end on our plates, and they encompass all the stops in between (and beyond, in that compost!) – production, processing, storage, distribution, sales and preparation. The PVGrows Forum provides space to connect the dots between growers and eaters, policy makers and activists; they provide technical assistance to examine business models; they provide ways to take stock of assets, enumerate challenges, and applaud good work; point the way to future work, and chronicle our collective progress.
The Fall 2011 Forum, entitled Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are: Farm & Food Entrepreneurship in the Pioneer Valley, was hosted by Greenfield Community College. It highlighted a diverse group of food entrepreneurs making pickles or yogurt, bringing fresh food to pre-schools, or getting a mobile food market rolling. The Forum asked attendees to consider how we each understand and support farm and food entrepreneurship in our community. The daylong event featured in-depth conversations designed to build collective understanding about how to create fertile ground for food businesses and highlighted issues such as increasing demand and collaborations of not-for-profit and public sector entities with private vendors.
These Forums provide a venue for purposeful networking, supported by excellent facilitation. What gets accomplished? In a nutshell – productive connections. One attendee comments that it was “especially heartening [for me] to realize that PV Grows’ methodology or strategy is focused on networking, and that you’ve got sponsors and organizations that support and agree with that approach. I think networking plays a critical function but it’s so often underappreciated.” Those at the early stages of business development are having conversations with those more seasoned; those looking for answers to the knotty question of how to retain employees when the work is seasonal are talking to those with work in other sectors on other schedules; those looking for suppliers or models for building a customer base, are sharing notes their notes with others. The value of the connections is only partly in what happens that morning or afternoon; many participants have initiated ongoing new working relationships whose value continues after the Forums have come to a close. The way to understand the value of the PVGrows Forum is simple: come to the PVGrows Spring Forum 2012 on April 11!
– by Alex Risley Shroeder & Joe Shoenfeld