Organizational Capacity Building

Candace LaRue and Associates

Vermont – Building Resilient Food and Energy Systems with Local Capitalism

on June 8, 2012

This is a pretty interesting conference so far…They trapped us in a room for six plenary speakers, and there was no mutiny! That says something about the passion the speakers brought to the podium. I’ve been watching things about the “New Economics Movement” for a while, and I can tell a lot of people are excited to be here and meet people thinking about and working on building economic alternatives that work.

First workshop session – hard to choose!

Vermont – Building Resilient Food and Energy Systems with Local Capitalism
Will Raap, Chuck Ross, and Ellen Kahler


The hope is to move towards a restoration economy with good, sustainable jobs. Vermont has been recognized for a large number of green jobs per capita, and is taking leadership in creating a number of types of green jobs – Chuck and Ellen will speak more about this. Chuck was appointed the Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets and is a former farmer and state legislator. He has been a consistent voice for green jobs, sustainability, and a balance of environmental and human needs. Ellen is the Executive Director for Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund representing a diverse group of stakeholders, working to create sustainable jobs.

Because Vermont is small, and because people talk about alignment, there has been a lot of alignment in Vermont at the state level, with cohesive policy, and can be an example to other states about coordinating efforts at the state level.

Raap mentioned an article – “Open market sustainability” in Solutions Journal by an author from the Smart Strategy Initiative. The article speaks about the opportunity to reset the market system through the idea of open market sustainability – addressing the question of whether capitalism will be an enemy or ally.

1 shift from sprawl to smart growth
2 shift from industrial to regenerative agriculture
3 shift from taxing income to taxing waste – re-pricing things to give the right signals to consumers and businesses.

Vermont can be seen as an example in leading these resets, in a way that can go beyond Vermont.


The goal in Vermont is building sustainably communities and economies, while addressing the ecological challenge of the 21st Century.

Vermont’s secret sauce includes
– community- based at
– sense of place
– entrepreneurial and innovation oriented environment
– local ownership
– Small connected units of organization
– two intersecting systems approaches with a long term plan (Food to Plate and Energy Action Now)

This “secret sauce” is being used in two initiatives, including the food-to-plate network and the energy action network.


This presentation is about top-level approaches on the path forward. Our work is being guided by Five conditions for successful large-scale change from an article in Stanford journal called “Collective Impact” article – I will add the full citation later!

1. Common agenda – common understanding of the problem, shared strategy,
2. shared data system and approach to evaluation and metrics,
3. mutually reinforcing plan of action linked through common mission
4. Consistent and open communication, focused on building trust, common motivation, and reaching objectives
5. Need for a “backbone organization” charged with managing the collective impact with a specific set of skills to coordinate participating organizations and entities

The Food to Plate network included data and 18-month long community engagement process to understand the current system and re-imagining what it might look like in the future. The vision is to move the Vermont food system to meet 80% of caloric needs by 2060 (still in the process of being adopted). The ten year goal is a doubling (5% to 10%) of Vermont food production and consumption. The strategic plan includes 33 goals with metrics for each. Mutuakly reinforcing activities involve continual adjustment of strategies and activities among members of the Food 2 Plate network, using the structure borrowing from the ReAmp model from the Mid West. This involves working groups and task forces working together, “breaking down silos” – looking for game changing, high leverage, high impact activities that we are working on together. The Sustainable Jobs Fund is the network coordinator.

Continuous communication and infrastructure involves people from many different stakeholders, including government and the funding communities. This facilitates identifying activities that are interconnected across aspects of the program. A food systems atlas is being developed that will make data and progress freely accessible, with a goal of connecting people and places.


Energy Action Now Network uses a different systems approach, which started in the reverse of the Farm to Plate network. EAN started with a small group of people who wanted to set new directions and ambitious goals – 100% renewable energy in all sectors by 2030. Once the goal was set, they included a group of about 25 people who are experts in the energy field to develop a strategic plan for a network that is simple enough to understand and implement.


The systems process led to a distillation of the goal down to 80%, and to identify “leverage points” where one success will lead to additional successes. Focusing on the leverage points are identified as where we should be “pushing” to accelerate the system:

Education, mobilizing capital, increasing innovation, regulatory and permit reform

Then, we need to identify what we can do to “push” the leverage points.

The network is now focused around expanding this plan out to identify and implement the specific activities that will use the leverage points to accelerate the system. This network also has a backbone organization and a board of directors representing the culture of the process. In the network structure, “education” is represented by “public engagement.”. The project also includes a “dashboard” with shared measurements, utilizing shared and aligned indicators for all activities. At the top, there is one goal – increasing the share of renewable energy – but at the detailed level there are also indicators for success in public engagement, mobilizing capital, increasing innovation, and regulatory reform.


If you want to create an economy based on care, abundance, and hope, we need metrics that include relationships. The strength of those relationships is what is going to hold us together through crisis. During Hurricane Irene, for example, Vermont could have gone toward chaos or mutual support. People cut off with no water, electricity, or phone for 4 to 5 days got out their ATVs to help their neighbors. The relationships fundamental to the culture and sense of place in Vermont show us that mutual support in the face of challenge is possible. To accelerate the change, it is important to mobilize “good capital for good purposes.”. One of the Farm2Plate lessons is that it is important for organizations, such as farms, to have an awareness of the stage of development, scale and type of organization, and type of market. Farm2Plate utilizes a “continuum of capital” to identify where funding will come from.


Creative financing is especially important for businesses that are not all about the bottom line, but have a wider variety of goals. Some types of funding exist, and others are being in development in Vermont. However, none of these are at scale. Likewise, there are not enough entrepreneurs who are ready to be the next generation of socially responsible business owners – with the seedbed environment in Vermont, it is important to attract enough young entrepreneurs.


There are multiple lessons from this process of building sustainable communities and economies.

– We need to set a direction we all agree on. There needs to be one clear direction so “the perfect” doesn’t become the enemy of the good, where the debate of exactly what we want to have keeps us from doing what we need to do.
– utilize networks
– identify leverage points and specific projects that move leverage points
– collect from people with whom we have built relationships to “get something done”
– in the process of doing things in 2012, we will be changing the landscape of what is possible to be done in 2013 and 2014.
– all of this is grounded in relationships, knowing one another. We need to redefine Ego within the networks in which we operate – individuals and organizations. Helping each other succeed helps ourselves as well.

In times of crisis, commonality of humanity often emerges, around the world.

In the end, it is all about community, and community is flexible. The systems approach is replicable and scalable – the ReAmp model was about a different topic in a different region. Networks must be scalable, adaptable, and nested. Community is how you define it, how you operationalize it, and how you build relationships within it. Vermont is running the 100 yard dash, but not very far down the track – we are invited to watch what is being done in Vermont, and see what comes of it.


F2P and EAN both used ReAmp but started in different places, partially because they were started in different ways. F2p s started by businesses, which led to policy change, which led to the backbone organization. EAN was started by a foundation who wanted to be relevant and start with a group of experts. In both cases, there were “catalyst” organizations that did not become the backbone organizations. Additionally, the leverage points in each network are similar.

Capital mobilization and innovation is where the private sector is an important part of the process. The private sector can then also help to advance regulatory reform and education.


This process is all about getting people to act on their economic and community interests, and on their strengths. We are asking individuals to do what is easy and possible – not what is impossible. We may need to create incentives at the policy level that facilitate change, but the changes are in the interests of individuals – such as ensuring proper insulation of all houses.


Identifying financial capital has not been the problem – finding enough entrepreneurs in the food ctor is what has been truly difficult. The continuum in the presentation was financial, but what about human capital, social capital, and natural? We may need more investment in the other types of capital in order to prime the pump for financial capital.


There are four continuums – capital, education and workforce development, infrastructure (for example, processing centers), technical assistance and business planning.

In each we need to identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps to create clear pathways to invest resources for biggest impact. How do we create a structure that builds on individual strengths to fill gaps, with existing organizations.


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