The Northern Colorado Food Cluster’s Decision to Dissolve

To the Members of the Northern Colorado Food Cluster:

The Board of Directors of the Cluster have regrettably decided that, due to financial constraints and continued challenges securing a permanent Executive Director, the Cluster cannot continue in its current iteration. We have begun the process of winding up most of the Cluster’s business.  With the exception of the Winter Farmers’ Market – which the Cluster will continue to operate until we identify a viable successor – all other Cluster activities will be ceased, and we anticipate formally dissolving the Cluster as it currently exists in the coming months.

We did not arrive at this decision lightly, as all members of the Board share a strong commitment to helping to build and grow food businesses in Northern Colorado, and to bolstering our local food economy.  Ultimately, this decision was made based on three factors:

  1. The Cluster received extensive funding in the form of grants in recent years, and this has allowed us to make strides in the very specific areas detailed in those grants.   It has always been the goal of the Board – as well as the hope of many Members – to expand the footprint of the Cluster and become less reliant on grant money to allow for more diverse services and activities.  At this stage, the Cluster continues to struggle to find its footing with regards to raising non-grant funds (e.g. membership fees, sponsorships, donations), and the Cluster’s budget became increasingly inflexible.  Ultimately, the Board determined that, due to these fiscal challenges, the Cluster would be largely limited to grant-based activities and would not be in a position to grow and build its services for Members outside the grant activities in the foreseeable future.
  2. The Cluster has had difficulties attracting and retaining a permanent Executive Director to execute the long-term goals of the organization. Our most recent Executive Director (ED) is resigning due to personal relocation circumstances and was the fourth ED in four years since the Cluster’s inception.  Due to the above-described budgetary restrictions, the Board felt it would be imprudent to launch another ED search.  The lack of permanent ED leadership has made it difficult to both ramp up fundraising and increase non-grant funds, as well as to pursue the broader goals of the Cluster.
  3. Finally, to that end, each member of the Board saw the Cluster as an invaluable asset to the Northern Colorado food community, but we each also believed strongly that the Cluster should always aspire to do more. We know that many of the Members shared those hopes, and we have spent much of the past year working to find a viable path towards those goals.  Unfortunately, when the Board met in recent months to  assess the financial restrictions, it became apparent that there was no clear or immediate path to meeting those loftier aspirations.

Ultimately, we decided it was best to responsibly wind down the Cluster.  We have seen firsthand the immense passion and ingenuity already present in the local food community in Northern Colorado, and it is our overwhelming hope and expectation that other organizations and actors, existing or new, will step into the space the Cluster is vacating to better serve our community.  We intend to carefully preserve the work the Cluster has achieved and to make it available to all such community organizations and actors. As this process progresses, we will continue to advocate for and attempt to build bridges to support local food.

Practically, the Cluster will return certain grant funds received but not yet utilized in the coming weeks.  We will also be returning membership fees to any Member who paid fees since the beginning of 2018, and will wind down other general Cluster activities.  We will begin the process of closing down social media and other accounts in the coming months, but will continue to communicate with you via email in regards to this process and (we hope) other opportunities and efforts in the local food community that come to our attention.

One activity which the Board is still working to address is the Winter Farmers’ Market, which utilizes an independent budget within the Cluster’s budget.  The Board hopes to identify an appropriate, qualified successor organization to operate the Market in the near future, and will provide updates regarding the Market as often as possible.

We understand members and the community may have questions regarding this decision, as well as practical questions regarding the Cluster and this process. For the time being, please feel free to contact us at info@nocofoodcluster.org with any such questions.

The Northern Colorado Food Cluster moved the local food systems economy a step further; the decision to close it was complex, and we made a considerable effort to explore the best options for the community.  We cannot thank you enough for your support of the Cluster and for your continued efforts to support our local food community.

Sincerely,

The Board: Corey, Katie, Carrie, Brendan, Denny, Nathalie, Lauren

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Knowledge and Network development

Connect food, beverage and agricultural supply chain actors. Host workshops and a regional conference.

Business Incubation

Mentor new businesses, provide skill development opportunities, provide grant support, attract new businesses to the region.

Market Development

Conduct market research, increase local and regional market channel opportunities, coordinate and implement market initiatives, promote the region.

How can the NCFC help my business?

Businesses in emerging and rapidly growing sectors of the economy may struggle the most to find relevant networks and like-minded businesses and organizations who are trying to understand the market dynamics and social issues they face. The Food Cluster is a convener of those like-minded institutions in the food system domain. Leveraging the “unified voice” of the industry cluster, engaged businesses should expect to see a return on their investment from the Food Cluster. This return on investment (ROI) will look different for different businesses: for some it may be new business leads and market access points, for others, industry cooperators in programs and projects and for others, connecting with those with similar missions to influence policy change.

Taking the collaborative approach to food system innovation and investment is the new paradigm for businesses, municipalities, and communities. The Food Cluster has only begun to scratch the surface of a new collaborative approach in Northern Colorado; your support, and most importantly your engagement in the Food Cluster, will ultimately lead to the organization’s success. How your business realizes benefits or a more tangible ROI from being engaged with the Food Cluster is really up to you.

How can the NCFC help my organization?

Whether your organization is a loose coalition of likeminded community members with a common goal, a small 501(c)(3) non-profit, or a department of a much larger (possibly global) organization, it is likely you also see value in leveraging the voice and resources of a larger set of organizations with common values. This voice may mean new energy around a public program investment to encourage new marketing infrastructure or market opportunities or research dollars flowing your way from a successful grant writing partnership with other Food Cluster partners. This may mean more publicity for your group that leads to more donations or volunteers from the community, or new engagement and interest from the community in support of your group’s mission.

Again, the collaborative process is key in this new innovation arena, and The Food Cluster wants your organization to be successful and realize ROI however you define it.

How does the Food Cluster select policies to work on?

The Food Cluster, through the policy subcommittee, has created a framework to identify impactful policies that align with the mission of the Cluster. The framework is divided into sectors of the food system that include production, consumption, distribution, and food waste/recycling. The framework will be utilized to select policies to focus on that are based on community needs, the potential solution identified, and the expected outcome of the policy.

How can the NCFC help my community?

By taking an economic development approach to food system innovation, the Food Cluster may gain some increased visibility and attention in key circles of the community.  But, with a membership base and governance structure that stretches beyond industry stakeholders, this Food Cluster can frame discussions to support more economically viable, socially just, and environmentally sustainable businesses and organizations, leading to a healthier, more resilient community.

What community initiatives has the Food Cluster supported?

Urban Agriculture Regulatory Changes– City Staff influenced and worked with citizens to research and draft new ordinances that allowed for urban agriculture in every zone district in the city; allowed for chickens, ducks, goats and more to be raised for increased self-sufficiency; allowed farmers markets in more zone districts; and supported year-round growing efforts by removing hoop houses from building regulations.

Farm Incubator – The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department, with assistance community groups including members of the NoCo Food Cluster, is in the early stages of developing a program to use a small portion of compatible lands to convert back to local food production. This will likely include a strategic partnership with the local food bank, a young farmer mentorship program to develop young farmers, and a demonstration opportunity to converge many conservation and agricultural management goals into one location.

Community Marketplace – The City of Fort Collins Economic Health Office continues to work with multiple City departments and community stakeholders (including members of the NoCo Food Cluster) to establish a year round marketplace for local farmers and value added producers.

Legislative Advocacy – Cluster representatives met with State Representatives Fischer and Ginal to discuss legislative proposals in 2014, and recommendations from the Cluster lead to the formal City support (through the Legislative Review Committee) of three State-level bills. 

Climate Change Task Force – Cluster members solicited community feedback and developed recommendations on behalf of the Mayor of Fort Collins who sits on President Obama’s Climate Change Task Force

How does the Food Cluster Connect with the rest of the state?

The Cluster was added to the state-wide food coalition directory and network operating under  the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council. Steering Committee members also attended the Summit for Colorado Food System Coalitions in February 2014 to network and learn from other coalitions around the state. More information is posted here: http://www.cofoodsystemscouncil.org/

To our grant funders and Sponsors

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