Catalyzing Innovative Programs and Policy to Restore Food Sovereignty to Birmingham’s Residents

January 15, 2022

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FUSE Corps

Nearly 70 percent of Birmingham residents live in neighborhoods that lack adequate access to quality, affordable fresh foods. The City of Birmingham is committed to changing this status quo, and seeks to build a food economy that is powered by the community. To support this work, FUSE will partner with Birmingham to facilitate community-driven hyper-local programs and policies that encourage food resilience across all neighborhoods in the city, addressing issues of accessibility and affordability in all parts of the food supply chain.

This fellowship project begins on April 25, 2022, and ends on April 24, 2023. The fellowship begins with a multi-day virtual orientation the week of April 25, 2022. The selected Executive Fellow will begin their first day of providing services to the host agency on May 2, 2022. 

PROJECT CONTEXT

From James Beard award-winning restaurants to the vast Pepper Place Market, where people from across central Alabama convene on weekends to shop for locally grown fruits and vegetables, Birmingham is among the small cities favorited by food lovers and culinary experts across the nation. Unfortunately, not everyone in the city has access to this food scene, let alone fresh or locally harvested produce.

Nearly 70 percent of Birmingham residents live in neighborhoods that lack adequate access to quality, affordable fresh foods. These neighborhoods have been shaped in part by the historical legacy of racism in Birmingham. Today, the same redlined neighborhoods of the 1930s, where white flight has also been rampant since the 1960s, are where food insecurity is prevalent, and accessing a grocery store is a challenge. The 149,000 Birmingham residents who live in these neighborhoods, almost all of whom are Black and low-income, face compounding inequities. These residents suffer from health disparities, including disproportionate heart disease, cancer, and diabetes compared to their white counterparts. They also face increased job loss and decreases in earning power compared to food-secure individuals. The public health and economic crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic has also disproportionately affected Black and Latinx residents in Birmingham, especially those living in these historically underinvested neighborhoods – putting further strain on these residents. With this context in mind, there is fervor for a food economy that is powered by the community. Whether it is a local church seeking to establish a food cooperative or a higher education partner running a mobile market, each community stakeholder believes access to high quality food options is a fundamental right. The City seeks to leverage this momentum and work in partnership with residents to turn their vision into a reality.

The City of Birmingham’s Mayor and City Council are committed to changing this status quo. The City believes every resident has the right to healthy, neighborhood-based food institutions. To date, the City has made significant investments to ensure healthy food options and grocery stores are closer to residents through the Healthy Food Initiative. This includes the passage of the Healthy Food Ordinance, which provides incentives to encourage grocery markets to open in designated areas by easing parking and square footage requirements; the establishment of a $500,000 Healthy Food Fund, to provide incentives for grocery stores to open and run; amending zoning ordinances to encourage both traditional grocers and non-traditional markets to open rather than dollar stores; and building partnerships with local foundations, community development organizations, startups, and business groups, and a network of farmers to work cohesively on issues of food insecurity. While attracting grocery stores to neighborhoods lacking fresh food has had some success, the Covid-19 pandemic reinforced that the current grocery store model and emergency food supply chain do not meet the complete needs of residents.

The City of Birmingham is determined to build on these existing efforts and form a vision of greater equity that promotes access to and awareness of healthy food and supports economic opportunity and environmental sustainability in the local food system. The City will partner with FUSE Corps to facilitate community-driven hyper-local programs and policies that encourage food resilience across all neighborhoods in Birmingham. The FUSE Corps Executive Fellow will focus on generating creative wealth-building opportunities that address issues of accessibility and affordability in all parts of the food supply chain. The Executive Fellow will build deep community-based partnerships and leverage innovative policy and financing tools to launch new ventures ranging from urban farms and mobile markets to basement food kitchens and last-mile delivery services. This work will play an essential role in advancing a food economy in the city that drives economic mobility, provides good jobs, and increases food access for Birmingham residents.

PROJECT SUMMARY & POTENTIAL DELIVERABLES

The following provides a general overview of the proposed fellowship project. This summary and the potential deliverables will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the executive fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE fellow and the host agency

Starting April 2022, the Executive Fellow will build off of the initial landscape assessment that the Mayor’s Office recently conducted to gain a comprehensive understanding of the City’s food access programs and policies. To complete this additional analysis, the Executive Fellow will engage with a wide array of stakeholders, including City Departments (Mayor’s Office, Planning, Engineering, and Permits; Office of Innovation and Economic Development, and the Department of Transportation), community members, and community-based organizations, food suppliers, corporate and local grocery stores, farmers and community-gardens, non-profits and food bank organizations, local churches, the entrepreneur and business community, and academic institutions. The Executive Fellow will work collaboratively with these stakeholders to research and assess innovative food access and resilience programs, policy, and other national best practices – adapting ideas from other cities to the nuances of the local context.

The Executive Fellow will work with food system stakeholders to co-design programs and platforms for food system change. The Executive Fellow will create spaces for partners currently operating in the food system to collaborate with one another, forums for residents interested in getting engaged to grow their understanding of local food dynamics, and a platform for those closest to food access challenges to advocate for policy change. 

The Executive Fellow will co-design and deliver a local food curriculum with stakeholders that is accessible to any interested resident, including startup guides for urban farms and farm stands, backyard gardens, food trucks and more. This curriculum platform and related events will enable apprentices based on urban farms, food access partners, and residents to share knowledge and power, to create their own hyper-local food access options, and to advocate for policy change. The Executive Fellow will develop a prospectus of private and public dollars the City can utilize to operationalize this curriculum.

The Executive Fellow will then lead the formation of a Food Advisory Board comprised of food system stakeholders, including curriculum platform participants, to directly inform the City’s food policy. With FAB members, the Executive Fellow will evaluate existing city policies impacting food access, including the recent Healthy Food Ordinance. With FAB members and other stakeholders, the Executive will identify which current policies, processes, and regulations are the most onerous to navigate and pinpoint any gaps that have hindered the formation of entrepreneurial ventures with the food supply chain – from urban farming to product generation to delivery. The Executive Fellow will lead co-design efforts with internal and external stakeholders to redesign food related polices, encouraging new strategies that would best support the formation of an equitable food system in Birmingham.

Through this renewed food access strategy, the Executive Fellow will support Birmingham in catalyzing creative, community-driven solutions that shift the balance of food power back to the community and restore food sovereignty to Birmingham’s residents.

  • Engage stakeholders to establish working relationships and buy-in – Demonstrate cross-cultural agility and successfully build trust with all relevant stakeholders; participate actively in community-based food-related events, ride-along with residents and entrepreneurs to understand the on-the-ground realities of the food supply chain; facilitate authentic conversations around food access, continuously work to gain buy-in from all stakeholders to ensure that any new policies or programs are supported and successful
  • Conduct a thorough review of the current landscape Build upon the City’s initial landscape assessment, work collaboratively with stakeholders to research and assess innovative food access and resilience programs, policy, and other national best practices; consult with stakeholders to understand the barriers to creating and implementing new strategies
  • Review and redesign existing food-related policies – Form working groups of various stakeholders, facilitate sessions to develop amendments to the current policies or create new ordinances, generate enforcement strategies, and recommend zoning-based solutions, land-use approaches, and other urban agriculture best practices to ensure equitable food system innovation is possible
  • Develop a Food Advisory Board – Formulate a charter, outline a governance structure, recruit potential members, ensure food system partners and community members of a range of ages, lived experiences, and types of food ventures are represented; and determine the engagements and creative interventions that the board will pursue over the next year to inform City of Birmingham’s food policy directly
  • Establish and launch a city-wide food access curriculum – Design step by steps guides for residents that reflect different parts of the food supply chain, techniques and ideas for urban farming, establishment of farm stands and growing backyard gardens, running food trucks, and more – touching on all aspects of the food economy; form a network for knowledge and resource sharing among curriculum users, ensuring food partners and residents can build their own hyper-local food access options and advocate for policy change
  • Support implementation of new policies and programs – Form an implementation plan complete with timelines and appropriate staff responsibilities, determine available funding mechanisms, sourcing publicly and privately available financial support; work closely with internal departments to craft a forgivable loan or grant program that supports local food system partners looking to create or expand food access ventures, provides capital for startup ventures, and funds professional development trainings

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Executive Sponsor – Ed Fields, Senior Advisor and Chief Strategist, Mayor’s Office
  • Project Supervisor – Amelia Muller, Civic Design Principal, Mayor’s Office
  • Katricia Flowers, Executive Administrator, Mayor’s Office

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Approximately 15 years of professional experience in a relevant field, background in urban planning and zoning, or personal experience with entrepreneurship and startup environments is highly preferred
  • Lived experience with food insecurity, understanding of food inaccessibility or unaffordability
  • Desire to support wealth building and resilience in historically underinvested communities of color
  • Experienced project manager
  • Strong community organizing and facilitation skills
  • Cross-cultural agility, relating to a wide variety of diverse stakeholders with strong emotional intelligence, humility, and empathy
  • Ability to breakdown silos and facilitate change management across large organizations
  • Proven ability to create and deliver powerful presentations with ease in public speaking
  • Success in cultivating partnerships, relationship and coalition building, and fostering collaborative environments
  • Persistence, ability to sustain progress within potentially ambiguous environments
  • Capacity to identify best practices, understand data and evidence and use it to support a business case, and make a persuasive argument to support recommendations
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills
  • Superior critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Self-motivated and goal-oriented leader who can also be an independent worker
  • Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations
  • Experience working in politically sensitive or bureaucratic environments
  • Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity
FUSE Corps is an equal opportunity employer with a core value of incorporating diverse perspectives into our work at every level. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this position.
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