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Winrock International

‘Everybody is Bringing Something to the Table’

Community food systems leaders find growth through mentorship.

Andrew Carberry

At its best, mentorship is an essential component of growth and development for both mentors and mentees. This is certainly true for participants in the Community Food Systems Mentorship Program, a national initiative led by Winrock’s Wallace Center that builds mentoring relationships among food systems leaders across the U.S.

“While it is extremely important that we have systematic ways of passing down the knowledge and cultural memory and life experiences of people who are more experienced to those who are perhaps less experienced, [we need] to be careful not to create a hierarchy when we talk about mentorship,” cautions Malik Yakini in a Visionary Voices interview about his leadership journey. “What I have found is that everybody is bringing something to the table.” [Listen to the full interview here.]

Unlike the application of technical assistance, where an outside expert tells a client how something should be done, the Community Food Systems Mentorship Program challenges mentees to discover their own solutions. As they get to know their mentees and ask the right questions, mentors draw on the mentee’s experiences, resources and creativity to think critically, develop solutions and envision the future. As one mentee explains, “My mentor asked thought-provoking questions that helped me discover my values, beliefs and priorities without ever pushing ideas on me. This program has been incredibly instrumental in helping me shift to the next stage of my career.”

Having someone they admire recognize their work, validate their experience and encourage them to make time for self-care and reflection gives mentees the boost they need to take the next step in their leadership journey. Mentors are offered new perspectives, unique and complex challenges, and a renewed sense of confidence in the good food movement. Several Community Food Systems mentors have reflected on this reciprocal nature of mentorship:

Being an FSLN Mentor has reaffirmed my belief in the individual strength, intelligence and passion of community food systems leaders throughout the country. However, those attributes can get stalled and dulled without a consistent space for self-reflection, confidential support and personal growth that the mentorship aptly provides.” — Miles Gordon

“I have grown tremendously as a result of serving as a ‘mentor’ through the Community Food Systems Mentoring program. The reality is that my interactions with ‘mentees’ have been a two-way street. As I share experiences and advice, it helps me to sum up and solidify my own learnings.” — Malik Yakini

Relationships of mutual reflection and knowledge sharing have deep roots in cultures around the world, highlighting their timeless value. Among the most notable benefits are the changes mentees make to their daily practices and the increased confidence both mentees and mentors feel in their own capacities as food systems leaders.

The Community Food Systems Mentorship Program is one of the few formal pathways for community-based practitioners to connect with profoundly accomplished food systems leaders in a mentoring relationship. In 2019, the Mentorship Program expanded to include nine, nationally-renowned food movement leaders that bring with them a wide range of expertise and experience. Learn more about the program here:

The Spring 2019 mentors are (pictured from top left):

  • A-dae Romero-Briones, JD, LLM (Cochiti/Kiowa), Director of Programs – Native Food and Agriculture Initiative, First Nations Development Institute
  • Amy KincaidVice President for Programs, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies
  • Angel MendezInterim Director, Red Tomato
  • Anupama JoshiExecutive Director, Blue Sky Funders Forum
  • Karen A. Spiller, Principal, KAS Consulting
  • Neelam Sharma, Executive Director, Community Services Unlimited Inc.
  • Malik YakiniCo-founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
  • Miles GordonFounder, the Gardens Project, and Principal, Kitchen Table Consulting
  • Paula DanielsCo-Founder, Center for Good Food Purchasing

The Mentorship Program is a core service available to members of the FSLN, a national community of practice that strengthens the leadership, management and organizational effectiveness of nonprofit, community-based organizations using food systems as a platform for social change in their communities.

To become a member of FSLN or learn more, contact or visit

The Wallace Center develops partnerships, pilots new ideas, and advances solutions to strengthen communities through resilient farming and food systems. Learn more at:

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