As part of the Pathways to a Healthy Kansas Initiative, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas launched an innovative grant for community-driven approaches to addressing the social determinants of health. Grantees were encouraged to identify the tools and strategies that would work in their community.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, the team at New Venture Advisors (NVA) has had the pleasure of working with three grantees in Kansas to advance food system planning in their communities.

The Challenge

Norton, Riley, and Geary Counties in Kansas selected NVA to assist with their Healthy Eating Pathways projects. While all three communities had strong food and health coalitions working in this area, they recognized the need to strengthen their local and regional food systems to support improved access to healthy food in the region. These communities also wanted to use the process to build strong relationships with their local government partners to advance policy, systems, and environmental changes that would broadly impact their communities.

Partnering with New Venture Advisors

At NVA, our approach to food system planning isn’t one-size-fits-all. We were thrilled to partner with these communities and a funder who understands that food system plans must be rooted in the local context and driven by local needs. Thus, each community’s food system project reflects their unique assets and priorities.

  • In Norton County (pop’n 5,342), NVA worked with the Norton Regional Health Foundation and Live Well Norton, a volunteer-driven coalition that works to improve health and quality of life for residents of Norton County. Our teams conducted a Norton County Food System Assessment to help the coalition and community members identify opportunities to grow their local food system. The assessment included secondary and primary data collection and will lay the foundation for a future food system planning effort in Norton County.
  • In Riley County (pop’n 72,208), NVA worked with the Food and Farm Council of Riley County and the City of Manhattan, KS, to complete a Food System Master Plan that would guide the development of a dynamic and sustainable community food system. This was a comprehensive approach identifying policy solutions that influenced how food is produced, processed, distributed, stored, transported, purchased, and consumed. NVA and the Food and Farm Council engaged community members and food system stakeholders to inform goals and action steps. The City of Manhattan and Riley County governing bodies unanimously adopted the finished Plan.
  • In Geary County (pop’n 35,934), NVA partnered with Live Well Geary County (LWGC) and their LWGC Food Policy Council, an advisory body appointed by the Junction City Commission (the largest city in Geary County). NVA supported Geary County by providing an update to their past Food System Assessment and facilitated a year-long process to create a community-driven Geary County Food System Plan. NVA provided strategic direction and technical assistance to them and their local planning partners in developing this plan, supporting the adoption process, and now assisting in the early stage Plan implementation efforts. The City of Junction City and Geary County governing bodies unanimously adopted the finished Plan.
Moving Forward

At NVA, we enjoy coming alongside communities to create food system plans chock full of actionable policy, infrastructure, funding, and programming recommendations that can help them make their local food systems more equitable and economically robust. What we love more than writing plans is seeing them implemented.

We continue to support our clients – whether they be food policy councils, community coalitions, local governments, etc. – during this challenging transition. While the planning process may take a long time, it is just the beginning. Turning recommendations into action plans and implementation strategies that result in new ordinances, programs, businesses, and partnerships is what improves the lives of citizens.

If your community is grappling with how to make progress in implementing your food system plan, reach out to us! We’d be thrilled to partner with you.

Photos Courtesy of (in order) Riley County Food and Farm Council, Geary County Food Policy Council, and 
Live Well Norton

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

In 2021, the Whatcom County Food System Committee conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors partnered with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan focuses on five key goals for building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system, and was informed by an inclusive community engagement process. The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2023)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a collaborative production kitchen benefitting food access, school system, and community organizations. The goal is strengthening Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. The facility will also feature an incubation kitchen, demonstration kitchen, event and classroom space, collaborative office and conference facilities, and housing.  New Venture Advisors developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development through engagement and operational development. (2023)