The Reports of Food First’s Destruction Are Greatly Exaggerated (with apologies to Mark Twain for borrowing his famous reply)

Dr. Joyce E. King and Hank Herrera | 07.30.2020

Dear Friends, Future Friends and Donors,

The Board of Directors is engaged in restoring the full vitality of Food First, which includes welcoming new board members, election of officers, and the search for a new Executive Director. We will continue to contribute to the understanding of the food system. We will continue to promote the essential changed in the food system necessary to ensure that communities have full access to the food they want to eat through ownership and control of the means of production and exchange of food for their communities here in the U.S. and among our international partners.

We write to you in a spirit of good will and with full appreciation for the feelings you have communicated in this distressing time for all of us associated with Food First. We hear your criticisms and concerns, with the understanding that you have heard only partial information about recent events. Missing from this narrative and calls for Board members to resign is the fact that in 2015 the Board tabled a vote on term limits for five years in order to stabilize the organization. At that time, we faced another agonizing crisis precipitated by personnel and management issues that threatened Food First’s viability. As you know, however, we are constrained from sharing any details of confidential personnel matters.

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What we can say is that during this past year we have faced a number of serious challenges with accountability; financial management; deficit spending; resource development; programs and partnerships; staff relationships; resistance to legitimate Board oversight misrepresented (or misunderstood) as micro-management; and other expectations that the Board could not support. Nevertheless, the Board of Directors has worked tirelessly to establish a positive, collegial, collaborative working relationship with the former Executive Director, who chose to resign to assume a position elsewhere.

Unlike the majority of U.S. non-profits, and compared to many of our donors and supporters, Food First has become a Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) led organization. The Board is undertaking a 90-day period of radical reflection and renewal of Food First. Our continuing aim is to support food sovereignty in the United States and in the world. We believe that this transformational change in the food system can and will ensure full access to healthy, affordable food to all people. This remains our mission at Food First.

The Board invites you to join us in our process of deep reflection and renewal. We invite you to join us in a series of virtual listening sessions and focus groups where the Board will listen to your concerns, constructive criticism and suggestions for making Food First better, stronger and more effective in accomplishing its vital mission going forward. We seek valuable input for the mission that the Board has not abandoned but affirms. The first listening session will take place on August 8, 2020, followed by a second listening session and three focus groups. I have
placed the schedule below.

    1. Listening session 1 on Saturday, August 8. The new Board members will be seated by
      then.
    2. Listening session 2 on Saturday, August 15.
    3. Focus group 1 with grass roots constituents (8/22)
    4. Focus group 2 with funders and donors (8/29)
    5. Focus group 3 with other interested parties (9/12, to allow for Labor Day holiday)

 

We are sending out Evite invitations with RSVP options. Please note that in order to ensure full participation, we have set a limit of 20 people to participate in each listening session, accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. We will send the Zoom link to those 20 people who respond to the Evite first. We will use break-out rooms so that smaller groups of participants have more time to speak.

Please consider the following questions:

“What should be the priorities at Food First?”
“What are Food First’s most impactful accomplishments in recent years?”

We truly hope you will accept this invitation. While we are pausing to seek input from supporters like you, we are also intent on sharpening our focus on how Food First can be maximally relevant and responsive both to internal challenges within the organization and rapidly respond to the external crisis of the pandemic that is devastating our communities.

Some of our critics have replied to previous communications from the Board saying that they don’t accept our views or that it sounds like corporate “whitewashing” or it is not any real explanation. We ask you to respect the constraints we face in responding point-by-point to allegations and to know that we continue to work tirelessly for the good of Food First.

Thank you for your support over the years. We invite you to engage in the listening sessions and focus groups so we can move forward collectively, with open hearts and minds, for the benefit of our communities and for the healing that we welcome.

Very best wishes,

Hank Herrera
Interim Executive Director

Dr. Joyce E. King
President, Board of Directors

Cover image by Horton-Stephens (CC BY-NC 2.0)