Episode 97 –Food Well Alliance: Growing Together

Episode #97
Original Air Date: 01.20.2020

32 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Britni Burkhardsmeier

The Vision: Increase access to locally grown food to build healthier communities. Hear all about an innovative project which is fulfilling this vision by empowering local growers, prioritizing local food, and saving food-producing land in a fast-growing city.

Britni Burkhardsmeier is a project and impact manager at the Atlanta non-profit Food Well Alliance, a collaborative network of local growers, community leaders, and city leaders, working to build thriving community gardens and farms across Metro Atlanta. Britni holds a master’s degree in public health from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, with a concentration in global nutrition. She previously worked as program coordinator on the emergency health and nutrition team at Save the Children U.S. in Washington, D.C.

Britni is relatively new to project management, and it is inspiring to hear her perspective, observations, and lessons learned as she has entered her PM career. From managing internal and external projects, to communicating with a diverse group of stakeholders (such as farmers, growers, and city governments), Britni shares what has helped her prepare for her role as project manager and she shares advice for other PM’s who are starting their careers.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"My advice would be the importance of building your project management toolbox, so learning what are those best practices, ... But then ...also still being able to stay fluid and adaptable and recognizing that you may have to change things up because every project is slightly different."

- Britni Burkhardsmeier

“... treating my colleagues as partners, the same way that I do with external organizations that we partner with. And so that takes a lot of time and energy sometimes making sure there’s alignment on everyone on the project, making sure ..., I really understand where everyone’s coming from so that everyone is heard and feels heard.”

- Britni Burhardsmeier

The podcast for project managers by project managers. Project Managing Community Gardens. Hear all about an innovative project to increase access to locally grown food and build healthier communities, by empowering local growers, prioritizing local food, and saving food-producing land in a fast-growing city.

Table of Contents

01:37 … Meet Britni
02:22 … Food Well Alliance
04:18 … Connecting with a Passion
05:33 … Preparing for a PM Role
07:02 … Stakeholders
07:59 … Plant Eat Repeat Project
09:01 … Aluma Farm Project
13:57 … Communication with Stakeholders
15:03 … Working with City Governments
16:06 … Problem Statement Strategy
18:09 … Facing Obstacles
20:03 … Compost Issues
22:44 … Getting a Community Garden Started
24:55 … Resources Offered to Growers
26:58 … Face to Face with End Users
29:20 … Where to get Produce
29:42 … Advice for New PM’s
30:41 … Lessons Learned
31:43 … Closing

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  I think my advice would be the importance of building your project management toolbox, so learning what are those best practices, whether it’s techniques of communication, how to interact with partners externally or internally.  What are those tools you need, you know, your templates for budget and timeline and meeting notes?  But then in addition to that also still being able to stay fluid and adaptable and recognizing that you may have to change things up because every project is slightly different.  Every partner on that project is slightly different. 

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  We’ve been listening to what you’ve been telling us about what subjects you’re interested in and what kinds of guests you’d like to hear from, and so we thank you for your input. Please keep the comments about our podcast coming.  So you can leave a comment on Google, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or whichever podcast listening app you use.  You can also leave comments on the Velociteach.com website or on our social media pages, it’s your feedback that brings the kind of guest we have on our program today.  And Bill Yates, I need to tell you, I’m not sure who suggested we have a podcast about food, but I’m certainly glad they did.

BILL YATES:  It’s making me hungry just thinking about that.  Looking forward to getting into that.  So Britni is going to describe some projects that she’s worked with that are really unique, the stakeholders are unique, the problems to solve are unique.  And I think, regardless of the type of project we have, we can all learn from Britni.

Meet Britni

NICK WALKER:  So, let’s meet our guest, she’s Britni Burkhardsmeier, a project and impact manager at the Atlanta non-profit Food Well Alliance, a collaborative network of local growers, community leaders, and city leaders, working to build thriving community gardens and farms across Metro Atlanta.  The goal is to increase access to locally grown food in order to build healthier communities.  Britni holds a master’s in public health from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, with a concentration in global nutrition.  Prior to attending graduate school, Britni worked as program coordinator on the emergency health and nutrition team at Save the Children U.S. in Washington, D.C.  Britni, welcome to Manage This.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Thank you for having me.

Food Well Alliance

NICK WALKER:  Let’s get started by just learning a little bit more about the Food Well Alliance. So how did that organization get started?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So we started in 2015 with funding from our founding benefactor, the James M. Cox Foundation.  And we really got started because it was a vision between the Cox Foundation and Bill Bolling, the founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.  And so together they saw an opportunity to connect members of Atlanta’s local food movement to collectively build healthier communities.

NICK WALKER:  And what about you?  I mean, tell us a little a bit about your background.  So how did you meet up with this organization?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, so I got introduced to Food Well Alliance in 2017, when I was a graduate student at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.  So I was getting my master’s in public health, with a concentration in nutrition, and through a professor and a class got introduced to Food Well Alliance and was part of a team that helped write the Atlanta’s Local Food Baseline Report, which Food Well Alliance published.  Kind of one thing led to another, and I stayed on.  And so, yeah.

BILL YATES:  I’ve got something that I have to confess right off the top.

NICK WALKER:  Uh-oh.

BILL YATES:  I hate cucumbers.

NICK WALKER:  No.

BILL YATES:  So when you studied nutrition, and when we talk about local farms and farming and bringing vegetables and fruit to local communities, I have to go ahead and confess I am totally cool with this conversation as long as we don’t say we have to have cucumbers.  Can we agree to that?

NICK WALKER:  So this guy, when somebody brings in masses of cucumbers that they’ve grown at home in their garden to give out to all…

BILL YATES:  To share.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, to share, you kind of…

BILL YATES:  I curse them.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Good news is that farms and gardens grow a lot of things in addition to cucumbers, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Okay, that’s good. So okay, I’m onboard with this conversation,  I’m probably going to get some hate mail on that, and I get it. They’re nutritional, but I am sorry, it just doesn’t do it for me.  There are many vegetables that I do fully endorse and embrace and eat very consistently, but cucumbers are not it. Okay.

NICK WALKER:  All right.

Connecting with a Passion

BILL YATES:  I just had to hate on it just for a minute.  When I think about, okay, you go to school, and you pursue nutrition, and you go deep into that, and then you find an organization that connects with a passion that had to be fun for you.  And, I mean, for so many people, they’re deeper into their career.  They’ve been working for quite a while.  And they’re like, eh, still don’t really enjoy, haven’t really found that thing.  But it seems like you were able to make that connection with this organization that’s like, okay, this is a passion point for me.  Was that the case?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.  The thing that’s also really exciting about it is, so nutrition’s really broad; right?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  There’s a lot that fits under that, from the health side to then like food and security.  Do people have access to food?  And Food Well kind of bridges a lot of those gaps.  So, yes, I came at it originally from nutrition in terms of making sure that’s how people are getting their nutrients, and they’re staying healthy.  But then my time at Food Well Alliance, I have learned about why healthy soil and compost is so important to make sure that the food that you’re eating is nutritious; why it’s important for people to have access to these foods, whether that’s farm stands at urban farms or farmers’ markets or community gardens kind of producing for themselves and the families that are there.

Preparing for a PM Role

NICK WALKER:  You have been thrust in this role of project manager.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yes.

NICK WALKER:  So what kind of prepared you for that role?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  It wasn’t something that I really knew much about going into it.  So it’s not like I went into school being like, okay, project management is what I want to do.  But it was one of those things where, in my career, both before Food Well Alliance and then really at Food Well Alliance, colleagues and managers kept kind of being like, you know, the skills you’re exhibiting are really great skills for project management.

And so the more that I looked into, okay, what is project management, what does a project manager do, really realizing that that is what I was doing in the projects that I had been placed in.  And so that’s what I was enjoying doing.  I enjoyed working with a bunch of different people on something and kind of, not necessarily being the expert, but working with all of the experts and really bringing them together to produce something kind of incredible.

BILL YATES:  And for not-for-profits such as the Atlanta Food Well Alliance, it’s so important to bring in somebody that’s got that skill set and that natural bent of, okay, I’m good at connecting people and managing stakeholders and helping define  requirements and then getting it done.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.  And, you know, it’s been interesting for me because sometimes that’s just internal with my colleagues; right?  There can be a bunch of us within different teams, even though we’re a small organization, really kind of, okay, how do I project manage that internally; but then definitely externally, as well, because we do work with so many different partners.

Stakeholders

BILL YATES:  I wanted to ask you about those stakeholders.  We kick around that word “stakeholder.”  But you do, you’ve got internal – you’ve got experts that obviously know a lot about nutrition and a lot about land use and things like that.  But then you partner with everybody from folks wearing coveralls to people wearing three-piece suits.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  So you have politicians, you have people with a lot of money, you have people that have very intense needs locally, what prepared you for that?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  I’m not sure, to be honest, but it is probably one of my favorite parts of what I do is working with everything from the farmers and the growers.  So I work on a couple of projects with Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, which is an urban farm in the west side, all the way up to organizations like the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Atlanta Community ToolBank, and kind of everything in between.  And then especially when I get projects where I can bring all those different entities together around one project has just been really amazing.

Plant Eat Repeat Project

NICK WALKER:  So can you give me an example, Britni, of a project and just sort of the steps and how it’s worked?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, so one project I’ve been working on this year is called Plant Eat Repeat, and it’s in partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Park Pride.  And so what we do is we provide workshops around community garden topics, and we’re doing them kind of seasonally.  So we did one in the spring, one in the summer, and then one in the fall, and every season we’ve got about four to five workshops.  Same topics throughout the season, but at different community gardens to kind of be able to rotate it around so people can attend at different gardens.

And so I kind of help with the logistics of making sure those that are supposed to kind of contact the gardens have, that we know what dates we’re going, what time we’re going.  Then Atlanta Botanical Garden has really helped develop that content for those workshops, and they’re the ones that are helping to kind of teach at those workshops.  And then Park Pride has been helping us kind of promote those, as well, and all three partners really help promote.

Aluma Farm Project

BILL YATES:  There’s another example that I wanted to ask about, too, this just – this blows my brain to even think about this.  There are times when I think we’ve all been talking before about, you know, you’re walking in a very urban area.  You may be around skyscrapers or just very dense, highly developed property, and then you turn a corner, and there’s a garden. And so my brain is just blowing up, going, okay, how did this ever happen?  How did somebody give this land or how was this land available for use?  And then from a standpoint of how was the ground prepared so that it could, you know, so that it’s able to produce the kind of fruit that we see. So one example that I saw on the website was for, and I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing it right, Aluma Farm?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Mm-hmm.

BILL YATES:  Says it’s a five-minute walk from the Beltline.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Now, for those who are not familiar with the Beltline, somebody help me out with that.  So what is the Beltline in Atlanta?  Nick, have you been on the Beltline?

NICK WALKER:  I have not, sorry.  Not much help, not much help there.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  I don’t know how you’d exactly describe it.  But essentially it’s my understanding, because I’m not an Atlanta native, I’ve only been here four years, is that they’ve kind of torn up old railroads that went around the city, and they’re kind of redeveloping them and turning them into walk and bike lanes.  And so it’s supposed to ultimately kind of connect the city, right now there’s pockets of it that are finished.  They’re still working on it.

BILL YATES:  Right.  Yeah, it’s award winning.  And the project, I think of the High Line in New York.  So there again they took, I think in that case, a raised railroad system that moved into Manhattan that was used for moving livestock mostly back in the early 1900s, and they’ve redeveloped that into this amazing space.  And then there’s gardens all around that, as well.  Now Atlanta’s done that, as well, with the Beltline.

So back to Aluma Farm, Aluma Farm is right off the Beltline.  How in the world did they find that property, or who donated that?  So how did you guys help bring awareness to that or help support the farmers with that?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So again, I don’t know all the specifics to it.  A lot of it kind of came before me, and I think we’ve helped with the farm after it’s been a little bit more established.  But my understanding is that the Beltline did set aside some pockets of land along the Beltline for urban farms, and I think even a few for community gardens. So Aluma was there first, and it’s kind of – it was their pilot, right, to see how it would work, and they’re doing amazing.

Andy and Andrea that work on Aluma Farm, so they’ve had to put a lot of work into getting that soil up to be as healthy as it can to really produce what they can produce.  But it’s amazing to see their photos of that first year that they were there, and they weren’t really able to produce as much as they could; to now, I want to say three or four years later, it’s incredible what they’ve been able to produce.  But a lot of that comes from the compost, you know, that’s a huge part of it.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And what do they produce?  Other than cucumbers, I assume there are fruits and vegetables.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.  So I know they do a lot of microgreens for restaurants.  But they’ve got, let’s see, tomatoes.  My favorite is kind of in the summer when they have okra growing.

BILL YATES:  Okay, I’m with you on that.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  I’ve got Southern roots, and so okra’s been my favorite.  And they do a lot, I think right now because it’s winter it’s a lot of leafy greens, so lettuces and kales, that kind of stuff. So I believe they did strawberries in the summer, as well, and peppers are usually a big one, as well.

BILL YATES:  And are they taking this produce and both selling it to local business, and then also is some of the land available for use for independent farmers who would just eat it themselves?  Or what do they do with that?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  At this location, Aluma, so Aluma’s the only one that’s there, there are a couple of other urban farms that have a little bit more space, and they kind of share it out or rent it out to other farmers.  But this one, Aluma, is just there.  They have a farm stand onsite, so every Thursday afternoon they have a kind of farm stand where people can come by and buy produce.  I know that they also do CSA shares so people can come get kind of a box each season that’s got whatever they’re producing that season.

BILL YATES:  What is CSA?  What does that stand for?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Community Supported Agriculture.  Made me think there.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So I know they’re doing that.  And then their microgreens they sell to restaurants, which again a number of the farms will do.  It’s just another income revenue source.  But Aluma also works with Wholesome Wave Georgia to double EBT or SNAP benefits, so those that might necessarily have the income to kind of afford full price produce.  They work with Wholesome Wave so that, you know, if tomatoes are $4, then the individuals pay $2, but Wholesome Wave helps subsidize the remaining cost.

NICK WALKER: So now, this being nonprofit, you must have a lot of volunteers that you’re able to utilize.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  We do, yeah, especially around our community gardens.  To date for this year we’ve had over 1,500 people volunteer with us on community gardens.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

NICK WALKER:  Whoa.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, and that’s pretty much on average every year.  It’s a big, big program that we offer. 

Communication with Stakeholders

BILL YATES:  You know, we’ve spoken with project managers before, Nick, and everybody struggles with what’s the right way to communicate with the different types of stakeholders that I have.  So I imagine you have to struggle with that, too.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  Any advice then on figuring out what’s the most effective way to communicate with this diverse group of stakeholders?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, that has definitely been a challenge that I’m still figuring out because then you also have your own personal preference at how to communicate, right?  So whether is that email, or is that phone calls, or these days is it better to text someone because you’re going to get a better response from that.

I feel like I’m still kind of figuring that out, but also have learned it’s really important for me to stay adaptable and just kind of learn them as people, as well.  So who’s my point of contact at that partner organization, and how do they prefer to communicate?  What makes the most sense between us?  So I don’t know that I’ve necessarily found one right way because I do on one project.  And then I go to another project, and that person won’t answer any emails.  But I can pick up a phone and they’ll answer right away, right?

BILL YATES:  Isn’t that funny, yeah.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s the way it is.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

Working with City Governments

NICK WALKER:  To what extent do you work with local or state government?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So that’s a new part of what we’ve been doing is working with city governments because we learned that it’s great to work directly with the growers, and there’s a lot of direct resources we can provide to them.  We work kind of also with just like general communities and people to really show them, like this is what’s happening.  But we started realizing that also a lot of kind of the needs that growers needed, specifically around land, we had to start working directly with city governments.  So that’s new for us, this is our first year.  We serve five counties here in Metro Atlanta, and there’s 54 cities within those five counties, and so far we’ve only engaged with seven cities.  But not bad for our first year.

BILL YATES:  Right.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  But it’s really how do we empower them to include growers in kind of some of these decisions around prioritizing local food, especially around saving that land, that food-producing land, especially as our cities are growing, and they’re redeveloping.  So how do you not lose that and really protect that?

Problem Statement Strategy

BILL YATES:  One of the keys that I see to success for a project manager is being able to articulate a problem statement to the sponsor or to the customer, in this case to the community.  And so I think you guys have knocked it out of the park with that. As then I look again at some of the examples, Miller City Farm, one of the write-ups on the website, the question is stated: “How are malnourished students supposed to concentrate?”  And that’s such a great problem statement.  So as you step into these meetings with government officials or with landowners, et cetera, you’re able to point straight to that.  So kudos to you guys in that.

How did you all come up with that strategy?  How did you, you know, so as I was just looking at the different examples, there are pretty clear problem statements in each one.  Did you guys stumble into that?  Or was that something that you kind of have as an approach to take?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER: I think what we really try to do is be the voice for these growers.  So not necessarily dictate what the growers should be doing, what their problem statement is; but how do we help be the one to bring all those voices together into one louder voice.  Sometimes we work with the farms and with the growers to really understand, like, okay, what is your problem statement?  What is it that you’re trying to do?  What do you need to do that?  But a lot of them, that’s also they know that, that’s how they kind of came into this work.  And so we’re really just trying to be their advocates and be the voice to get them a seat at the table.

BILL YATES:  I had the sense, as I was looking it over, so you kind of find a formula for one group that wants to take a piece of land and develop their farmers and whatever.  And then you realize, okay, this is how they had success. This is how they broke through with the government entity that they’re dealing with, their city, and so now we can help the next farmer when they come along. We’ve kind of got a toolset for them to help them know, hey, here’s what resonates. So here’s what gets you the land, here’s what gets you the compost, and here’s what gets you the volunteers.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Right.  But again, needing that adaptability because it also depends on, well, how receptive is this city? Also how receptive are their residents?  So what might work in one city for one farm might not necessarily work in another city, whether that’s just receptiveness or for policies, whatever it might be.

Facing Obstacles

BILL YATES:  So what are some of your biggest obstacles that you face as a project manager?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  It’s the complexity of working with different partners or stakeholders.  It’s also probably the part that I enjoy the most, whether that’s internally, right, so making sure that our leadership is aligned with my colleagues that are actually going to be implementing the work, but really just making sure we’re all aligned. So we all know what we all want to get out of it and what our vision is for the project.

But then it just – the complexity kind of adds as you add additional external partners.  Like how many partners am I working with on one project?  Who is my point of contact at those organizations?  Are they a decision maker within that organization?  And so if they’re not, which is perfectly fine, what does their internal structure look like to get a decision made, right?  Because if you need internal approval on something, is that going to take two weeks, or is that a couple of days?  So really just kind of trying to figure out what that looks like in an external organization so that we know how to adapt our timeline accordingly.

And then I equally try and be transparent back and provide that same information to the partners of, like, so if we need approval on, let’s say it’s a promotional item, here’s who I have to talk to internally.  So here is how much time on average it’ll take us to accomplish that.

NICK WALKER:  It seems like there must be a little bit of detective in you.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Problem solver, absolutely. Absolutely.

BILL YATES:  So one question I have that I hear project managers bring up often is one of my biggest obstacles to overcome is I don’t know a lot about the specific – the science or the metrics that we’re working in or this particular industry.  I’m the project manager, so I don’t know the technical side.  I think in your case you do.  You’ve got a background in nutrition.  How much has that helped when you’re trying to overcome obstacles or get people to give you feedback that you need?

Compost Issues

 BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So funny enough, the majority of my projects since working at Food Well Alliance have been around compost.  And I knew nothing about compost, so we’re starting [crosstalk].

BILL YATES:  So you’re a compost expert.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  I’m getting there.  I wouldn’t say “expert.”

BILL YATES:  You’ve got your doctorate in compost.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  But I’m getting there.  So, but that’s a great, like, that’s definitely what I experience, I mean, they would use these terms, and I was like, I have no idea what that means or what you’re talking about and the science behind how you actually create compost.  So that’s been a learning experience.  But again, something I realize that I absolutely love about project management is that I’m not always the subject matter expert, but I get to work with the subject matter experts, and so I get to learn all these little tidbits.

So whether it’s on the science behind compost, and you need your nitrogen and your carbon and what constitutes that, or there have been a couple of construction projects we’ve done around actually building three-bin compost systems for a community garden.  Again, so I’m not a construction person.  But now getting to work with my colleagues and getting to work with kind of a construction contractor to make those, I’ve learned a lot through that as well.

NICK WALKER:  Now, there’s been some compost legislation; correct?  So there’s government involvement in there.

BILL YATES:  What are you saying?  So are you describing legislation as compost?  Is that what you’re saying when you say it’s specific to that?

NICK WALKER:  Well, now that you mention it, there’s probably – that’s probably applicable.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

NICK WALKER:  But what do you run into when you’re dealing with compost and, say, environmental laws?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER: Our policy and planning team is the one that really kind of interacts the most with those laws, so I don’t know the specifics.  But what I will say one of the biggest hurdles that not just Food Well Alliance but anyone doing kind of this compost-related work is the misunderstanding of what compost really is.  So a lot of times it’s seen as smelly and dirty and garbage and waste.  And so what we’re all kind of running into is how do we change that perception?  How do we raise awareness that actually it’s this beautiful thing that is filled with nutrients, and that’s what makes our food nutritious?  And so we need it.

And there’s the environmental factor of, instead of throwing your food scraps into landfills, you can put it back into the earth and back into the soil. So I would say, in addition to kind of laws and regulations, a lot of it has to do around misunderstanding of what compost is and seeing it as garbage and waste instead of this nutrient-rich soil that we need.

NICK WALKER:  So when the compost hits the combine fans, what do you do?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  I don’t know.

BILL YATES:  She’s still working on that doctorate in compost.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yes.  Exactly.  See, not the expert yet.

Getting a Community Garden Started

NICK WALKER:  Can you just tell us a little bit about how this all works?  I mean, when you’re contacted by a potential new grower, is there a certain procedure that happens?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Not necessarily, so we, a lot of times, tend to provide resources kind of post that.  But for community gardens, my colleague Fred Conrad, who’s been doing this over 20-plus years, he’s really an expert when it comes to community gardens.  So he will answer any questions that people have, if they’re looking to start a community garden, or they’ve just started, and they’re not really sure what to do. He’ll also arrange to take them on a small tour of different types of community gardens just to show them what their options are of here’s different ways it can look, here’s how membership can work, and then along that process really help answer any questions that they have.

For farms, we’ve always been a connector, so we’re really great at connecting different people together. So we’ll make sure that, if it’s a new farmer, we connect them to other farmers, especially when it’s kind of geographically around them or that are interested in similar farming techniques. Also make sure to connect them to organizations like the Atlanta Farmers Coalition or South West Atlanta Growers Cooperative.  So really just make sure that they’re connected to their peers and the experts to help answer those questions.

NICK WALKER:  And then are they in charge of their own little piece of land? So is there a certain amount of control that farmer might have, or at what point does your organization step in with volunteers to help maintain it?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So we don’t run and operate any of these community gardens or urban farms, we’re really there just as a resource to the growers. We don’t mandate that they have to have volunteers, so they request volunteers from us, or sometimes we’ll have a volunteer group that’s like, hey, we’d like to work with community gardens.  So my colleagues will reach out to a couple community gardens and be like, we’ve got this group of people. Are you interested?  What days would you be available?  What projects would you have for them?  We’re really here to support the growers, and so we really listen to what they need and what they want, and we try our best to provide that for them.

BILL YATES:  So I see an example, I love this one:  Grow With the Flow, Reggie and Roger Ramos. 

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.

Resources Offered to Growers

BILL YATES:  So talk us through like what resources do you offer folks like that.  They have a vision in their head.  They’re not really sure how to get there. So they turn to you guys for some help, what resources do you offer?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.  So within our resource center, and that’s the team that I specifically sit on, we still offer grants.  That’s how we started originally was providing funding to growers, that’s definitely still a big piece.  But what we’ve really learned in these last four to five years is that money isn’t always the magic bullet, right, that there’s other resources that are needed.  So outside of grants, we also offer compost, whether that’s actual compost delivery…

BILL YATES:  There we go.  I like it.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  See?  Or compost infrastructure, or trainings around compost.  We also offer different workshops and trainings to growers.  Technical assistance, so sometimes that’ll be – that one’s more kind of for the community gardens, but garden improvement or tours. For the farms, really, the biggest part we really started this year is around kind of our tools and equipment, so we just started this tool lending program with the Atlanta Community ToolBank.  And so BCS tractors and their attachments are implements and tools that can help farmers do what they do.

BILL YATES:  Sure.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  But they’re expensive.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  So we worked with the Atlanta Community ToolBank to purchase two BCS tractors and six different attachments that now the growers can become sub-users of Food Well Alliance’s account and actually borrow those tools.

BILL YATES:  Nice.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, and so we offer some training around that.  We want to make sure they know how to use it, but then they’re able to borrow them for I think it’s like three days.  So that’s been a huge resource, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the growers around that one.  And then there’s mechanical assistance.  So sometimes they’ll need my colleagues to come out and help plow a field, or maybe some tools broke down, and my colleague Fred Conrad can come kind of help repair those.  And then the last resource is volunteers.  But our volunteers right now have mainly been for the community gardens.  They’re still trying to work out what volunteers would look like for farms.

Face to Face with End Users

BILL YATES:  This is a kind of off-the-wall question, but I know for me, with some of the projects that I’ve managed, if I’m able to get face to face with the end user, it makes such a difference.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  It has such an impact, so have you been impacted by that kind of experience?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, so that is one of my favorite parts of project managing.  And something that I try and do frequently is a lot of my projects I can kind of sit in my office or sit at my desk, but I really try and make sure I’m out at the farms.

  So I’ve had the opportunity with this tool lending program, which is one of the projects I manage, I actually get to go out and be at the training locations and interact with the growers and watch them learn how to use these BCS tractors.  I haven’t taken it myself yet, but that may be one day.  But yeah, I absolutely love going out to the farms and visiting with the growers and, you know, hearing what they need and how can I be more helpful?  How can Food Well Alliance be more helpful?  What more can we provide?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, and some of the results are just, I mean, so I’m reading thousands and thousands of pounds of fresh fruit, fresh produce.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, so that’s got to be exciting for you guys and keep you charged up to continue your vision.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, I mean, so we really see urban farms and community gardens as really strengthening cities.  So in addition to providing all of this produce, just what they bring to neighborhoods, I mean, it’s green space in some of these neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of green space, or turning vacant lots into production fields of food.  And then they become gathering places.  So like Aluma with their farm stand on Thursdays, it’s wonderful to drive by there, and you see so many people, both from the neighborhood that have walked down and others that have driven in because they know of Aluma.  So it’s just amazing to see these faces and how they transform their communities.

BILL YATES:  I can relate to that.  If you have nothing in common with someone, you just met them for the first time, and you’ve got – there’s nothing in common.  But then if you have a common goal, you know, let’s weed this row or let’s plant this, and you work together, you sweat together, you drink water together, you bond.  That makes for healthier communities.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, so I mean, at the end of the day we all eat, right?

BILL YATES:  Absolutely.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  And so we all have to eat, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, where you live.  And that’s always been kind of how I’ve approached nutrition, and so it’s been amazing to see that still the same connector at Food Well Alliance.  But then as you were saying, even then when it comes to actually growing the food and just what that can do, also getting your hands in the soil, what it can do.

Where to get Produce

NICK WALKER:  So how and where can I eat some of this food?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah.  So definitely visit our website, FoodWellAlliance.org and we’ve got grower sites on there, and farmers’ markets are always kind of popping up.  Same with community gardens, sometimes they’re hard to keep track of because there’s always new ones kind of popping up around the city.  But, yeah, I’d say that’s a place to start, for sure.

Advice for New PM’s

NICK WALKER:  You know, so you’re a new project manager, there’s probably listeners who are kind of in the same shoes that you are.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Mm-hmm.

NICK WALKER:  What would you want to say to them? So what have you learned here in your first forays into project management that maybe would be good to share?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, I think my advice would be the importance of building your project management toolbox, so learning what are those best practices, whether it’s techniques of communication, how to interact with partners externally or internally. What are those tools you need, so you know, your templates for budget and timeline and meeting notes?  But then in addition to that also still being able to stay fluid and adaptable and recognizing that you may have to change things up because every project is slightly different. Every partner on that project is slightly different, so really, you know, firm and yet fluid at the same time.

BILL YATES:  Firm and fluid.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  And know your compost.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yes.

NICK WALKER:  Absolutely.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yes.

Lessons Learned

NICK WALKER:  We always like to talk about lessons learned, anything that you wish you had known then that you know now?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  That partner management is a huge part of project management, and again, externally for sure, which I think people will always kind of think about, but even  internally, you know, really kind of treating my colleagues as partners, the same way that I do with external organizations that we partner with.  And so that takes a lot of time and energy sometimes making sure there’s alignment on everyone on the project, making sure, you know, I really understand where everyone’s coming from so that everyone is heard and feels heard.  But then also where do you make those compromises?  How do you still make everyone feel good about the work that they’re doing?  So that was something I didn’t realize was a huge part of project management initially and have learned.

NICK WALKER:  Can we give that web address one more time for people who might want to know more information?

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Yeah, definitely.  So it’s FoodWellAlliance.org.  And then feel free also to follow us on Instagram, @foodwellalliance.

Closing

NICK WALKER:  Britni, it’s been so great having you here on Manage This, we have a special gift for you, this coffee mug.  It’s big.  It’s probably not big enough to be a compost bin.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  No, not quite, but…

NICK WALKER:  And I wouldn’t plant cucumbers in it, either.

BILL YATES:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Yeah.

NICK WALKER:  But enjoy.

BRITNI BURKHARDSMEIER:  Thank you guys so much.

NICK WALKER:  Thank you for being with us.  Before we go, we want to remind our listeners about the free PDUs you just earned for listening to this podcast.  So to claim your professional development units toward your recertifications, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and click right through the steps.

That’s it for this episode of Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on February 4th for our next edition, so until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

2 responses to “Episode 97 –Food Well Alliance: Growing Together”

  1. Avatar Peg Lampe says:

    Great podcast – I love the topic and appreciated Britni’s passion, dedication and emphasis on staying adaptable to the needs of the project/stakeholders.

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