Community Partnership, Policy & Systems Change

Build trust, cultivate dialogue, illuminate priorities, advocate for change. 

We support communities and organizations to facilitate multi-stakeholder engagement and public participation processes to advance transformative systems and policy change.

What is authentic collaborative process? Across the country, local and regional multi-stakeholder collaboratives are organizing to improve access to health, education, and economic resilience. What ingredients are needed for true collaboration that changes social and racial equity dynamics? How do we cultivate interdependence and foster innovation? How can these collaborations grow relationships and influence systems and policy?

How do we influence the systems that create inequities in societies? How do we navigate complexity?

Transforming systems requires new approaches to listening, new ways of interacting and building relationships, and new narratives.

We support this process by:

  • Co-Designing stakeholder analysis in order to understand who is at the table and who needs to be at the table.
  • Generating multi-stakeholder input for policy planning. What is the change you want to see? How do you prioritize change efforts? How will you know you have succeeded?
  • Supporting communities to design public participation processes to ensure policy recommendations are just, equitable, and inclusive.
  • Centering relationship and trust building
  • Centering Black, Indigenous and People of Color leadership and methods to “set the table”


Moving Springfield Upstream: Setting the Table for Race, Place and Change

MassUP Springfield is a 3-year diverse, place-based partnership that advocates and builds capacity for Springfield, MA residents to access and enjoy healthy food. This work is grounded in a shared vision for community ownership and decision-making rooted in racial justice and health equity. Fertile Ground convenes, facilitates, and evaluates this project, which includes five core agency partners that are designing processes to engage a broad multi-sector steering committee in developing language for dismantling systemic racism while activating innovative fresh food access strategies. The result is long term systems, environment, and policy change.

Home Grown Springfield: Springfield Public Schools Culinary and Nutrition Center

Home Grown Springfield is a school food initiative of Springfield Public Schools and their food service provider Sodexo. The project aims to eliminate student hunger by increasing the quality of school food for its 31,000 students through scratch cooking in a 61,000 square foot state of the art Culinary and Nutrition Center. With funds from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, Fertile Ground leads a diverse Advisory Committee made up of local and regional stakeholders who participate in quarterly advisory sessions focused on developing evaluation criteria and supporting the development of a replicable model. Fertile Ground captured the program’s first two years of  learning and evaluation in our latest report, found here.

Pioneer Valley Grows

Pioneer Valley Grows is a network of advocates, entrepreneurs, and investors focused on enhancing the ecological and economic sustainability and vitality of the Pioneer Valley food system. PVGrows is also the home to the Racial Equity in the Food System Working Group, founded in 2013 to investigate and address systemic racism and inequities in the local food system.

Catherine Sands is on the steering committee of PVGrows and is co-chair of the Racial Equity in the Food System Working Group. In this role, Fertile Ground develops workshops, trainings, and curriculum focused on understanding racism and white privilege for food systems practitioners in the region. Most recently, Fertile Ground has partnered with PVGrows to develop a project to increase access to the PVGrows Investment Fund for farmers and food business owners of color.

Pictured above, Catherine Sands and Liz O’Gilvie, Chair, Springfield Food Policy Council

Reos Partners: The Bridging Studio

Reos Partners is is an international social enterprise that designs, facilitates, and guides processes to make progress on the world’s toughest challenges in education, health, food, energy, environment, development, justice, security, and peace. With more than 20 years of experience and expertise in collaborative coalition building, Reos Partners helps teams work to open and create paths toward systemic transformation.

As a project consultant to Reos Partners Catherine Sands provided co-facilitation for The Bridging Studio exploring the intersection between social innovation and social justice, and the potential transformative social change the two sectors can achieve when they work together.

Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council

For nearly ten years, Fertile Ground has collaborated with Partnership in Practice. Together we co-directed the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Cross-Site Evaluation for the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council 2007-2017.

In this project we facilitated a multi-stakeholder team responsible for measuring, communicating, and improving HFFPC’s system and policy change efforts to increase food resilience in low-resourced Holyoke, MA communities. As part of this process, Fertile Ground designed cutting edge community-based participatory methodologies and published findings in academic journals with a national thought leadership evaluation team.

Good Food For All

Good for Food For All (GFFA) Collaborative unites grassroots and national organizations around a vision for a just, equitable and sustainable food system. Catherine Sands joins GFFA participants to work together to transform the food system through policy advocacy.

Williamsburg Elementary School Garden

In collaboration with Williamsburg Elementary School, Fertile Ground spearheaded the first School Garden program in the district, modeled after the Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley, CA. Click here to read about it in Edible Pioneer Valley, Fall 2017. Fertile Ground developed the program by gaining support from teachers and administrators, securing funding for a garden educator to create the school’s first gardening curriculum, and helping to build the schools’ first garden beds. In addition, Fertile Ground established a partnership between the school and Nuestras Raices, a Holyoke-based community garden and youth development organization, bringing youth leaders from Holyoke to Williamsburg to share food and garden education across cultures. The Williamsburg Elementary School Garden project resulted in a permanent shift in the school toward supporting garden education, healthy eating, and local food systems, becoming a model for other schools across the state.

“Fertile Ground is a great example of how connecting kids to food and farming can enhance curriculum, engage children, involve parents and the larger community, and encourage healthy eating. Visit the garden, come to the harvest feast, or sample the dishes and read the stories in this cookbook, and you learn that all of this can be accomplished through the beauty of the garden, the taste of real food, and the connections between people.” – Margaret Christie, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture
“This project is a really valuable and progressive program that feeds off the growing interest in local food production.” – former Massachusetts State Representative Steve Kulik