Joining Forces to Grow Local Agriculture and Food Networks
University departments, community organizations, food trucks, entrepreneurs, teachers, chefs, restaurant owners, and non-profit boards come together to develop new and innovative collaborations.
Written by Dr. Lauren Goldstein
Photography courtesy Arrowhead Center at NMSU
On July 25th, Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University and the Purdue University Agile Strategy Lab co-hosted an action-based workshop to support the robust food and agriculture network in our region. For “Exploring Innovation in a Collaborative Food & Ag Economy,” the partnering organizations brought to the table an assortment of over 30 voices who might not cross paths in daily workflow, to consider the question: Imagine if we leveraged new collaborations to accelerate growth in our vibrant, connected Ag/Food ecosystem. What would that look like?
Janiece Greene is Senior Adviser of Technical and Digital Integration at the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. We met in February through an e-introduction and became quick collaborators and friends. Our weekly calls turned into the seed of an idea for a project, which evolved into a partnership with Arrowhead Center at NMSU and the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. With support from Zetdi Sloan, director of Arrowhead Center’s AgSprint business accelerator program, the partnership between organizations yielded a full-fledged workshop event.
For the bones of the workshop, we used Strategic Doing, a strategy discipline developed at the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab that is lean, agile and fast. It is a framework designed specifically for open, loosely connected networks, and accelerates the formation of sophisticated collaborations. The discipline, whose roots are based in economic development, has been used by civic, business, university, and government organizations such as NASA’s Life Science Research Capabilities Team and Lockheed Martin.
It felt like the right time to try something like this in Las Cruces. We are, after all, the New Mexico State University Aggies. We are a Hispanic-serving, land-grant institution with a strong and multifaceted research community; College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES); a bustling ag/food innovation scene; and an active collection of community and academic leaders in our region. And this doesn’t scratch the surface in regard to our collective assets.
As an organizing team, we set out to bring people together who represent diverse facets of the ag/food ecosystem. To cast a wide net for invitations, I first leveraged my own professional contacts and asked the question: If you were to throw this party (workshop), who should be at the table?
Through recommendations and additional research, vast networks emerged: university departments, community organizations, food trucks, entrepreneurs, teachers, chefs, restaurant owners, non-profit boards and organizations, and more. I sent customized versions of the workshop invitation to each new group.
On the day of the event, all 35 people who confirmed for the workshop arrived. Standing in the room with everyone was astounding. Participants’ interest and expertise included: utilization of food and other wastes into fuels and/or high value products, environmental science, horticulture, chile mechanization research, aquaponics and fish farming, culinary arts education, restaurant management, water management and resources, ag economics, ag marketing, ag entrepreneurship, supply chain management, sustainable food systems in the Paso del Norte region, food co-ops, food science, food facility management, produce safety inspection, ag policy analysis, and more.
Central to the value of any Strategic Doing workshop is creating the space to consider what is possible with the assets they already have around the table. Participants moved through the Strategic Doing process, guided by the questions, “what could we do together?” “what should we do together,” “what will we do together,” and “when will we meet again?” At each of the five tables, Arrowhead staff served as guides who facilitated table discussions.
Industry guests included Dr. Todd Abraham, retired senior vice president of research and development at Kraft Foods/Mondelez International, and Ray Laudano, president of NPD Strategies Inc. and former senior research scientist at Kraft Foods Group.
From the Sodexo custom omelet bar (to satisfy vegetarians, gluten-free, and sugar-free dietary needs), to the invitees, to the beautiful venue — the Hershel Zohn Rehearsal Theater at the ASNMSU Center for the Arts with its skyward ceilings and windowed walls—the event culminated in a bright and energetic atmosphere which fostered collaboration and open discussion.
In short, this is only the beginning. The innovation workshop served as a base for initial conversation that will lead into the 2nd annual AgAssembly conference, hosted by Arrowhead Center in partnership with NMSU College of ACES. AgAssembly will take place at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum September 6th. To register for AgAssembly, or for more information, visit arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu/agassembly.
To learn more about Strategic Doing or the “Exploring Innovation in a Collaborative Food & Ag Economy” workshop, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-646-5069.
AgSprint and AgAssembly are sponsored by the US Economic Development Administration and New Mexico Gas Company, an Emera Company.