New Fellowship for Mid-Career Food Systems Professionals
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2 January 2019

Castanea FellowshipThe Castanea Fellowship is a new leadership program for mid-career professionals working to shift policies, practices, culture, institutions, and narrative in order to build a more equitable food system. The need for this fellowship was realized when a number of W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) Food & Society Fellow alumni conveyed the void left in professional development when that program ended in 2013 after ten years. An innovation at the time, Food and Society captured the just-bubbling energy of young professionals working on a variety of issue areas within the broader umbrella of food and society. Food and Society fellows have gone on to become nationally and internationally recognized leaders across a broad field of food systems change, and have continued their pursuits of a just food environment as leaders in organizations of every scale and shape. Some of its graduates have also gone on to become recognized leaders of the food movement, such as Ann Cooper, Michel Nischan, Curt Ellis, and, of course, Anna Lappé, now with Panta Rhea, and Haile Johnston.

KK&P was retained to research the feasibility and desirability of the new program as part of a taskforce consisting of the Panta Rhea Foundation, the Grace Communications Foundation, and Haile Johnston of Common Market. Now, just 18 months after the concept was presented to the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders meeting, the fellowship is recruiting its first class of fellows.

As part of our assignment, we were asked to quantify and qualify the potential that a new fellowship program could have. To do this, we conducted 19 one-on-one interviews, surveyed 33 former WKKF Food and Society Fellows, conducted listening sessions across the U.S., and developed a landscape analysis of other mid-career fellowship programs across many sectors. Each contributed to the consensus that a fellowship focused on professional development for more diverse leaders in the food movement was needed and would be welcomed by food systems individuals and organizations.

Fellows have the opportunity to learn best practices from one another, draw connectivity between their areas of expertise, and gain a greater understanding of areas they are less familiar with. According to Karen Karp, “Fellowships offer time and support to explore new ideas, take risks, reflect, and explore opportunities that, otherwise, participants could not afford.”

The Castanea Fellowship is part of KK&P’s Education portfolio, which focuses on conceiving, developing, facilitating, and evaluating educational programs and events across the agriculture, food, and health professions. Other projects have included the strategic plan for and project management of the development of Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food in Bentonville, AR; the International Culinary Center’s (ICC) California Farm to Table Program, a strategic plan for Amherst College’s Book and Plow Farm; curriculum design for emerging agriculture issues at SUNY Adirondack; feasibility and program design for the Food Studies AA and AS degrees at Hostos Community College; and an innovation and economic development strategy for the Mid-South Delta that includes a sweeping transformation of agriculture food education across primary, secondary and technical trade institutions.

“The Landscape Analysis and program modeling we did with Karen Karp & Partners helped us test our hypothesis that there was an urgent demand from the field for a fellowship like Castanea—one dedicated to supporting diverse cohorts of food system changemakers in learning key skills and developing strong connections. The fact that 407 people applied for the fellowship in our very first round is, to us, a clear sign we were right.” Anna Lappé, Director, Food & Democracy Program, Panta Rhea Foundation, founding Steering Committee Member, Castanea Fellowship 

KK&P is enormously proud of the response to this program, with applicants dispersed geographically across the United States and also including many women and people of color. Building on the past decades of success in building a food movement, the Castanea Fellowship is a critical step to ensuring our leaders are prepared to tackle complexity and solve problems at scale.

To learn more about the program, click here.