New Venture Advisors is privileged to work alongside powerful forces driving progress toward building food systems we can all be proud of. These forcesour collaborators, partners, clients, visionariesare leaders in changing how we think about and act regarding food. In this Forces for Good Food series, we voice our gratitude for and spotlight the people and organizations who are creating valuable, lasting food system impact.

One such organization is Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health. We recently participated in their Community Health Academy, a learning collaborative of leaders from across the state of Idaho about policy changes that can support community health. Since the Idaho communities participating in the Community Health Academy were from small and mid-sized communities, many of them rural, we really had to stretch our research muscles to find great examples of small towns across the Midwest and Mountain West doing transformative food systems work. You can read about a few of them here.

We were so inspired by the experience, we reached out to Courtney Frost, Senior Program Officer at Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health (BCIFH) to learn about why they, as funders, are interested in supporting good local food policies.



NVA:  So, why is Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health funding policy/systems/environment changes in food systems?

BCIFH:  We’re committed to creating a healthier Idaho by addressing root causes that impact health. The intention of focusing on policy/systems/environment (PSE) changes is the ability to reach a larger audience and have a greater impact. The CDC’s graphic illustrates this concept.  It shows that counseling and educational efforts generally have a smaller impact because they’re reaching one person at a time, whereas as we work our way down the pyramidand begin focusing on PSEwe can have a bigger impact. One of our goals is to create sustainable and transformational change that will last for generations. We have worked with local communities for many years through mobilization grants and learning collaboratives that include a food-systems focus. Funding and partnering around food systems helps create healthy food options in Idaho communities that are sustainable.


NVA: How will addressing food systems advance health in Idaho cities and counties?

BCIFH:  Access to healthy, affordable food is a major driver of health outcomes. Supporting that access, as well as food education, is a focus of our work with local communities. Idaho has a rich farming and agricultural history, as well as a grow-your-own food culture. Food systems can be a tough topic, but it is one that is embedded in our state’s culture.


NVA:  And what are some impacts you’re already seeing from this work?

BCIFH:  Idaho communities are creative and passionate in increasing access to healthy foods, and we’ve seen unique and innovative solutions. Some cities include a budget to support farmers markets, while others create edible landscaping in city parks. There has been support of community kitchens and expanding home gardening policies. Mobile farmers markets and partnerships with local businesses around health education are creating lasting impacts.

Image: Source: Frieden T. Am J Public Health; 2010; 100(4)

 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)