A Network Leadership Institute Goes Virtual, With an Appeal to the Senses

August 29, 2021 Leave a comment
Photo from Southside Community Land Trust (Providence, RI)

I have shared a few times on this blog about the Food Solutions New England Network Leadership Institute (NLI), something IISC has had a hand in co-designing and co-facilitating for four years (late 2016- early 2020). Last year, in light of COVID, the calls for reckoning and repair, and so much uncertainty, along with the very place-based nature of the Institute to that point, we elected not to jump into the virtual fray. Instead we took a step back, and with the generous support and understanding of the Angell Foundation, were able to have some deeper conversations about the future of the NLI, what we had learned over the past years, how we wanted to evolve the offering, and what new capacities we needed as a team and broader network.

Now we are poised to offer the 5th Institute over the next six months (September 2021-February 2022), anchored in 6 day-long virtual sessions, complete with many of the same components we have had in the past: (1) community and relationship building, (2) grounding in the history and present work of the Food Solutions New England Network, (3) meeting and hearing from other food system leaders and change agents in our region, (4) sharing practices to cultivate personal and collective resilience, and (5) developing deeper collaborative and networked capacity to realize justice, equity, sustainability, and democracy in our regional food system. In addition to these six sessions, we will offer a number of optional inter-session gatherings, in the early evening, with either a cooking demo, relevant movie (such as Gather and A Reckoning in Boston), or special speaker.

Through the summer, we were able to attend a number of different trainings to heighten the core team’s awareness and facility around issues of trauma and racialized trauma (thanks to Jerrilyn Dixson and team at Progressive Therapy, LLC out of Jackson, MS and Cultural Somatics Institute), dynamics of class and classism (thanks to Class Action) and intervening actively in harmful situations (thanks to Quabbin Mediation). This has also opened up more ground for us to explore, even as we bring some of these more enhanced sensibilities to our collective work for equity and well-being. More about learnings from our summer sessions will come in another post.

In addition, we have been considering ways in these continuing socially distanced times, and in light of our ongoing reliance on virtual means of connecting, to bring some more fun and a bit more of the tactile and multi-sensory to this year’s program. One step in this direction is a care package going out to our diverse 18 member cohort before the program officially starts. With a tip of the hat to the ever thoughtful and resourceful Jane d’Antonio and El Farrell (core members of the FSNE Backbone Team) and Karen Spiller (lead FSNE Ambassador and network weaver extraordinaire), here is the letter that will accompany goodies going out to this year’s participants, chosen in alignment with the network’s core values and commitments. Hoping it might inspire you in your creative and generous offerings as we head into a new season of opportunity and challenge:


Welcome to the FSNE Network Leadership Institute.  We are thrilled to host your cohort during this unusual year.  While our sessions will be virtual, we hope to foster a unique and supportive community amongst us all.  To start, we wanted you to have these tactile, delicious treats from values-aligned producers across our region, many made by NLI alumnae or FSNE Network Team members.  We hope that we can enjoy these together during some of our sessions, as a reminder of the vibrancy of our network and the ways we are all connected, even when physically apart.

Here is a guide to the treats in this box!

From Connecticut:

Rachel Beth’s Healing Therapies – Sage Smudging Spray

NLI Alum Rachel Sayet is a member of the Mohegan Tribe and an Indigenous Educator, anthropologist, Reiki practitioner and essential oil crafter. She specializes in creating natural health and beauty products utilizing therapeutic grade essential oils.  This smudging spray is an easy way to refresh your space.

From Maine:

Passamaquoddy Maple – Maple Drops

The Passamaquoddy people have lived and flourished since time immemorial within their Aboriginal Lands primarily in Eastern Maine and Western New Brunswick, Canada. For millennia, the Passamaquoddy way of life was to hunt, fish, trap and gather food and medicine and to employ the natural resources of the environment to sustain their communities. One Passamaquoddy food gathering tradition is harvesting the sweet sap from the Mahgan (Sugar Maple). Passamaquoddy Maple is a MOFGA-certified economic development project meant to tap into this traditional natural resource. Since the operation began they have sustainably  tapped over 10,000 trees and produced over a thousand gallons of maple syrup, as well as creating seasonal and full-time jobs for the Passamaquoddy people.  

From Passamaquoddy Maple Facebook page

Rwanda Bean – Coffee Tasting Trio

This Maine company was founded by Rwandan immigrant Mike Mwenedata who says: “In many ways, the coffee we share with you is the perfect symbol for my Rwandan home. Both prove that the richest lives are often shaped by the struggle to survive. This exceptional Bourbon Arabica varietal coffee crop perishes in other climates, but flourishes within the extreme alpine environment of our tropical land. Our Fifty Percent for Farmers program was inspired by the belief I inherited from my parents that education and compassion have the power to create richer, fuller lives. The direct aid these funds provide to support the health, education, clean energy, and operational needs of our farmers and their communities does just that.” 

Little Linden Herbals – Apple Mint Sage Tea

This woman-owned business in El’s hometown of South Berwick, Maine, features locally grown teas and herbal remedies.  Her Apple Mint Sage Tea includes locally grown Apple Mint leaves, and will refresh you and leave you with a feeling of warmth and contentment.  Add a small amount to a tea strainer, steep and enjoy! 

From Massachusetts: 

Cacao Nuts and Chocolates – chocolate covered pretzels 

This Black and Dominican immigrant-owned business in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood and in Newton is a favorite haunt of your co-facilitator Karen Spiller.  She keeps our whole team running on chocolate covered pretzel deliveries, so we thought it only fitting that we share some with you. 

From cacao nuts & chocolates website

From New Hampshire:

Stock + Spice – Wicked Hot Salt

NLI Alum Evan Mallet and his wife Denise founded this unique spice shop in Portsmouth.  Stock + Spice strives to bring global flavors, local ingredients, and creative ideas to home cooks, and to serve as a place to learn about, discuss and engage in our local food community. Their Wicked Hot Salt is made with 100% local chiles, including Ghost, Jalapeno, and Capperino chiles, mixed with pure Atlantic sea salt from the Maine Sea Salt Company. Sprinkle just a little (or a lot) on fried eggs, home fries, roasted veggies, and more.

Popzup – Popcorn 

This woman-owned Dover business is not far from the University of New Hampshire campus, where FSNE is based.  Popzup popcorn is sustainably harvested and GMO-free.  Try topping it with some of the Wicked Hot Salt! Stop by the FSNE hosted New England Village on the Greenway at the Boston Local Food Festival on September 19 to meet Julie Lapham!

From Rhode Island:

African Alliance of Rhode Island – Savory Carrot Jam 

Several NLI Alumnae are involved in the work of the African Alliance of Rhode Island, which is led in part by FSNE Steering Committee member Juilus Kolawole.  This savory jam is one of their most popular value-added products made with their own carrots grown in their community gardens.  Try it on a Castleton Cracker or visit the AARI website to find a Vegan Carrot Apple Jam Muffin recipe (on page 22 of AARI’s 2020 Report Card).

From African Alliance of Rhode Island Facebook page

From Vermont:

Castleton Crackers – Simple Wheat Crackers 

This woman-owned business was inspired by a traditional New England recipe for “hardtack”, a sturdy cracker that was an early staple, especially for sedafarers of our region.  The crackers are all natural and handmade, making them a healthy base for any snack! 

And last but not least:

We’ve also enclosed our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change (FL4SC) Manual via the Interaction Institute for Social Change, and a favorite book: Sacred Instructions, by Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset). Sherri is based in Maine and is a Penobscot speaker and educator on issues of Indigenous rights, environmental justice, and spiritual change.  We felt her writing would be grounding and inspiring to read on your own time.   The manual will be a main text and resource during our six main sessions, and will be supplemented by other online materials as we work to build collaborative skill and will towards a more just, sustainable, resilient and democratic regional food system.  Please make sure to have the manual with you during all sessions. 

We hope you enjoy each of these special items, and find community in the shared experience of flavors and scents!  We are able to support these businesses and share their products with you thanks to generous support from the Angell Foundation. 

Please enjoy in good health!

Karen, Curtis, El and Jane

Photo from Housatonic Community College (Bridgeport, CT)

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