REAL Talks Episode 2 - Starting the DEI Journey as a Coalition: Part 1 of Our Conversation with Double Up Heartland

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In episode 2, we get into our first interview of REAL Talks, where we talk with Double Up Heartland, a coalition of six partner organizations implementing Double Up Food Bucks, a nutrition incentive program at grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands, and mobile markets in Kansas and Missouri.

Reaching for Equity in All Lives podcast cover art includes a graphic of a green tomato with a photo of a young girl cooking superimposed inside.

Each partner organization in the coalition brings unique expertise and built relationships with the geographies they serve within the region, including urban, suburban, and rural communities across both states.

DUFB collageKolia talks with two of the coalition partners, Mid-America Regional Council and Cultivate Kansas City. The coalition launched a DEI committee in 2021, so we focused our conversation on how they're aligning multiple partner organizations with different values and priorities to a collective vision.

The Double Up Heartland coalition includes the following partners:

  1. Cultivate Kansas City
  2. Mid-America Regional Council
  3. Kansas State Research & Extension
  4. University of Missouri Extension
  5. West Central Community Action Agency
  6. University of Kansas Medical Center

To learn more about Double Up Heartland, visit their website at www.doubleupheartland.org.


Episode 2 Transcript

Kolia Souza: Welcome to episode two of REAL Talks, Reaching for Equity in All Lives. I'm Kolia Souza, Food System Equity and Advocacy Specialist with Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.

Andrea Weiss: And my name is Andrea Weiss, I'm Communications Director at MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

Kolia Souza: And we're your hosts for this podcast. We're excited to get into our first interview of this podcast series, where we talk with Double Up Heartland, a coalition of six partner organizations implementing Double Up Food Bucks, a nutrition incentive program at grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands, and mobile markets in Kansas and Missouri. Each partner organization brings unique expertise and built relationships with the geographies they serve within the region, including urban, suburban, and rural communities across both states.

Andrea Weiss: Kolia, what I thought was so interesting about what our colleagues from Double Up Heartland shared in this episode is that they come from different organizations and are working to build a shared understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion, or DEI, for all their organizations and ways that they can work together to address DEI because it impacts what they can accomplish together.

Kolia Souza: Right. So here in October 2021, I had the opportunity to talk with two of the coalition partners Mid-America Regional Council and Cultivate Kansas City. The coalition launched a DEI committee earlier in the year, so we really focused our conversation on how they're aligning multiple partner organizations with different values and priorities to a collective vision. No easy task, but one of those first steps can be creating a shared experience that serves as the basis for mutual understanding and shared language. For Double Up Heartland, it was starting with a video from Soul Fire Farm, “Feeding the Soul, Growing Community.” For those who aren't familiar with Soul Fire Farm, they're an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. They offer year round trainings too.

Andrea Weiss: And spoiler alert although this attempt at creating a shared experience did not go as expected, our guests learned and adapted. Even though these organizations have worked together for about five years, when they started talking about doing DEI together, they realized how different these conversations feel. Okay, let's meet our guests.

Lauren Schaumburg: Hi there. My name is Lauren Schaumberg. I'm a Public Health Planner for the Mid-America Regional Council. I also coordinate with the Double Up Food Bucks grocery store locations and help with project management.

Lana Dominguez: My name is Lana Dominguez. I'm the Food Access Program Manager working at Cultivate Kansas City. I work alongside my colleague Eli to coordinate the Double Up Food Books program at Kansas City farmers markets and farm stands.

Donna Martin: I'm Donna Martin. I am the Project Director for the Double Up Food Bucks Heartland program. I work at MARC, Mid-America Regional Council, which is the metropolitan planning organization for the Kansas City Metropolitan region. And my official-official title at MARC is Senior Public Health Planner.

Kolia Souza: Thinking about this DEI journey that you all have been on, what have been some memorable moments you've experienced through this coalition's journey, maybe successes, or even things that might not have gone as planned?

Lana Dominguez: So when we first started, early days of DEI, we were trying to build some sort of consensus with the collaboration at large. What we decided to do was pick a video and then break us up by a little Zoom groups, since we've been meeting remotely, and then have some discussion questions at the bay. And so what we decided to use at the time was a video we found by Soul Fire Farm.

I had become aware of Soul Fire Farm because we actually had Leah Penniman, the leader of that group, at our Cultivate Kansas City Annual Farmers and Friends. She was our keynote speaker and it was incredible. And so being able to tie what we had learned from her keynote presentation, we found this excellent video online, and that was what we used as our basis. So kind of moving along, we were like, this is going to be excellent, this is going to really get people fired up and talking about this cool video and what we found was, it didn't exactly go as planned.

I think, because this was so brand new for our collaboration to do a video and then a conversation, I think it took people out of their comfort zone already. And then, because the nature of the video, I think might have been a little bit of outside of other people's comfort zones. That was just maybe a little bit too far. I would say overall people really enjoyed it, but what we did realize was oh, I think we kind of jumped the gun on that a little too early. And it actually was a good learning lesson for us because it made us kind of reevaluate how we were going about this work and maybe being more intentional about taking us as a journey on the collaboration and making sure no one's being left behind.

Donna Martin: I think one of the things that I realized was, and I think as a group we realized, was that this is a very unique thing that we're trying to apply. As a collaborative of different organizations coming together, it felt like a different kind of... I don't think we were all used to a collaborative meeting or a committee meeting of a whole bunch of different organizations and doing this work versus being in our own organizations and having the organizations set up the direction, the goals, the sought after outcomes of DEI work within an organization to being part of this collaborative and kind of jumping right in with a video that has these really big goals and big ideas in the DEI world and talking about terms like food justice and food apartheid and things like that. I think Lana was very correct. It took a lot of people by surprise.

Kolia Souza: You know, you make a really good point, Donna. When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, this work. It's so broad, it's so big. You have to figure out not only where are people at in this process, but how do we make some things more bite size and digestible so that we can all move along in the process together? How did the decision come about to start the DEI subcommittee? And then when and how did those conversations get off the ground? So knowing that you guys started pulling some things together for the collaborative to start the journey with one another. When did that part start?

Lana Dominguez: I think just because of my background, I recognized the lack of this conversation right away. But I was still so new at the time, I barely knew how to do my job and I needed to get boots on the ground, figure out what my actual day-to-day was before I felt comfortable bringing up maybe, hey, where's this diversity, equity, and inclusion component that we can bring into our work and I think make it better. And I think I started asking some questions about it maybe a year or so ago, but I was really glad to see that there is obviously so much that we can do together and that Lauren was right away wanting to partner with me and then we've grown it now.

Lauren Schaumburg: You know, Lana and I have been co-conspirators from the beginning. I've always felt that there was sort of a missing component of these conversations in our group. So I brought the idea to Donna and said, how do you feel about me sort of just seeing what happens?

For context, we have monthly meetings with our collaborative. So the collaborative March meeting, we gave the link to the survey, just sort of talked about what we were going to do with this work. And then the following month in April, we presented the survey findings back out to the group with just some like general discussion around what our goals were for the work, why were we doing this, what we sort of had in mind. And we really didn't get a lot of discussion at all.

And I think it was shortly after that, that we reached out to you, Kolia, to see if you had any advice for generating discussion or getting buy-in in this work. And so the following month we did a presentation on definitions just to build consensus or even educate on, what do these words mean when we're talking about them in the context of DEI. And then it looks like our June meeting is when we had that Soul Fire Farm video and discussion. And so really since June, we have been just building consensus internally in the committee.

Kolia Souza: Yeah. So this is your experimental space to see how it works with a smaller group. How many representatives do you have from each organization that are part of this subcommittee?

Lauren Schaumburg: There's five of us total. So Lana, myself, and Donna. And then we have another member also from Cultivate Kansas City. And then our fifth member is from Kansas State Research and Extension.

Kolia Souza: Okay. So right there you have about half of the coalition represented in the DEI committee. You guys have a fascinating process unfolding between that initial survey you conducted among the coalition members, holding learning sessions to establish shared language, and creating a shared experience to get the dialogue going. You've actually accomplished a lot in such a short amount of time and you're getting critical feedback from the group, I'm assuming both spoken and unspoken. And that's where we start getting into the thick of the process. I'm really excited about where you're headed.

Andrea Weiss: As you said Kolia, you know, it's October 2021 now and this team has accomplished a lot since they started their DEI work in March of 2021. They tried something, got a much different response than they expected, and used that to inform what their group needed to do next and how to go about doing it.

Kolia Souza: Yeah. So Lauren talked about these two parts of the process in the beginning, where there was creating shared language and creating shared experience. Those could easily be viewed as two separate things where on the one hand technical information is presented to create consensus. And on the other hand, a group engages in activity together to perhaps create mutuality. That's engaging left side, right side brain thinking. Our left side controls language and our right side controls context. And that's actually really important to consider in terms of the way we learn and process. So the question is, how do we go about building those bridges of shared understanding between the two in the learning environment we're trying to create?

Andrea Weiss: Yeah, it is a learning environment. Doing DEI work is working and learning at the same time. Maybe for some of us, more heavy on learning than we're used to in a professional setting. I know we've talked about this before and probably will come back to it again, but this is another example of how DEI work challenges the professional culture and structures that we're used to.

Kolia Souza: And tension is a part of the creative learning process, it's inherent within the practice of DEI. And that's what we'll be going deeper into in the next episode with Double Up Heartland.

If you want to find out more about Double Up Heartland, visit their website at doubleupheartland.org. And to dive deeper into this work, you can check out diversity, equity, and inclusion resources like the Food Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion webinar series provided on the Nutrition Incentive Hub website at nutritionincentivehub.org.

Andrea Weiss: You can find all REAL Talks episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Please share this podcast and check out our other episodes. REAL Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss, and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


REAL Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss, and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


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