Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD) represents nearly 150 jurisdictions ranging in population size from 30 to 10,000 residents across 16 counties. Recognizing that many rural communities have limited economic development support, SENDD set out to create a virtual learning module that would provide technical assistance focusing on community and economic development, primarily for rural counties that do not have a designated professional focused on economic growth.


Their Opportunity

SENDD recognized that the module should incorporate various components of economic development, including a section on how strong local food systems contribute to economic development through job creation, downtown revitalization, community wealth creation, and sense of place development. With a CARES grant, SENDD brought on several partners, including New Venture Advisors, to develop a toolkit/curriculum for community leaders to learn how to build more robust local food economies in their region.


Partnering with New Venture Advisors

SENDD wanted a way for townships to identify opportunities that would support food security within the region through workforce development, technology-based economic development, infrastructure, or other identified strategies. The goal was to introduce the topic to communities to enable them to prepare for a more thorough study or develop an action plan.

Tapping into our team’s food system expertise, New Venture Advisors created a Local Food Systems learning module for SENDD’s regional economic development partners. The learning module introduces users to food system planning and guides them through a series of sections designed to help them assess their own food system. The module contains:

    • Instruction on why developing food systems can be rural economic development and the tangible economic development benefits of a strong local food system. The top benefits include job creation, downtown redevelopment, enhanced quality of place, and wealth creation.
    • Case studies from success stories — Profiles of communities building vibrant local food systems and the role of local governments and economic development professionals in supporting these efforts.
    • Snapshots of each of the 16 county’s food systems to better understand the local food system assets and challenges in their county.
    • Tools such as surveys and interview guides, worksheets, and steps for learning from and engaging their community members.
    • Available funding opportunities and resources to help them create an action plan or implement an idea.

The module is included as a bonus curriculum within SENDD’s Regional Economic Development Lite Program, built on an e-learning platform to be shared with all the SENDD’s service area member communities.


Moving Forward

The complete economic module e-learning platform is in its final stages of edits and will go live after the new year. SENDD has identified at least three communities to beta-test the module. (Stay tuned! We are excited to share a link once it’s live.) To learn more about SENDD and the services they offer, visit their website – – for additional information.


Photo Courtesy of Mshake via iStock

 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)