A main cornerstone of the Growing Connections program is their workshops. Intended to bring a diverse group of community stakeholders together, these workshops act as an incubation hub and an idea generator that allow communities to share resources, brainstorm solutions, and action plan around creating regional farm-to-food bank (F2FB) networks. Workshop planning begins once the Growing Connections team is aware of a community need or desire to create a F2FB program, and involves continuous input from the community in which the workshop is going to be held. In an effort to ground the F2FB planning work within the community and to develop ownership over the F2FB program, the Growing Connections team asks for the community to create a "Planning Team." This group of leaders is responsible for bringing ideas from the community to the table as part of the development processes, and is also tasked with reaching out to their networks to generate interest in the Growing Connections workshops and support around F2FB programming.
Before the workshop is held, the regional leadership team will have numerous conference calls with the Growing Connections team to establish the topics that should be discussed in a workshop, which directly influence the agenda that the Growing Connections team creates. Our staff also talk with our partner food banks in the area to hear their most important concerns. This happens in-person, by phone calls, and by attending coalition meetings where there is a coalition. The agenda typically includes different facilitation techniques that the Growing Connections team believes will aid the community in the main goals for the workshop: networking, resource sharing, brainstorming, and action planning. One group from which the Growing Connections team draws inspiration is Liberating Structures, which has a plethora of available resources on their website. The benefit of having an outside facilitator for a community organizing workshop is the ability for the facilitator to remain nonpartisan, observe the dynamic and conversations within the room, and offer well planned activities that help groups work through often challenging logistical discussions. Throughout the workshops the Growing Connections team helps communities identify their strengths, allows stakeholders from different backgrounds share their institutional knowledge, and helps the communities come up with tangible group solutions to move their ideas forward.
Growing Connections typically works through three workshops in each community with which they collaborate. Though the format of the workshops is tailored to individual communities' needs, it is typical that the first workshop centers around sharing resources and generating ideas around F2FB work. The second workshop aims to help the community create action plans around the ideas generated in the first workshop, and the third workshop helps propel the identified goals forward either by providing a training, or offering a space for the community to continue to work through their action plans, mission, and direction. A useful tool that the Growing Connections team has started using within some communities is Google Docs. The Growing Connections team will create an action planning calendar and address book on a Google Spreadsheet that the community leaders can use to direct their work, and update as they move through projects.
For detailed information on the workshops that have been hosted so far, you can look on the Growing Connections workshop page here. Additionally, if you live in Washington and your community is interested in having facilitated workshops geared towards creating a county or community-wide F2FB network, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.