Learn More About Organizational Structures Within the Mission-Based Food Production Movement

Undergraduate students Christopher Hastings and Molly DeVore pick bush beans as volunteers from UW-Madison’s F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture harvest fresh produce and vegetables from their farm plot at Eagle Heights Community Garden at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Sept. 13, 2020. The students harvested more than 300 pounds of fresh produce, which they later distributed for free to nearly 100 people during a Harvest Handout outreach event held on East Campus Mall. F.H. King hosts the Harvest Hand out each Sunday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (CommNS) Executive Director Mary Beth Collins and Co-Create Graduate Research Assistant Allison Crook recently collaborated on an article entitled “Choosing the Right Structure for Organizations Participating in the Mission-Based Food Production Movement.” The piece provides entity choice considerations for mission-based food production efforts.

The following is the executive summary of the article. You may view a PDF of the full article by clicking the button at the bottom of this page, or open the piece in Google documents here.

There has been a recent swell of interest in the potential of food production and food sovereignty efforts to not only produce food, but in turn address a range of broader environmental problems and social inequities. A variety of mission-based food production efforts across the U.S., tribal nations, and around the world aim to advance a broad range of goals including but not limited to: sovereign food systems, vocational training, youth development, environmental stewardship, alternative economic structures, and racial justice. A recent New York Times feature highlighted the way that local food production efforts are collectively working to dismantle and rebuild food systems themselves.

Local efforts tend to embrace multiple programmatic objectives, and often rely on multiple revenue types to support their missions. They take the form of nonprofit urban farms and community gardens, cooperative farms, and food processing social enterprises, just to name a few examples. They often have qualities of social entrepreneurship, striving for revenue-generating models that can sustain their work. Some adhere to traditional business models with mission-based guiding principles; others function as nonprofit organizations, leveraging donations and grant opportunities for their work; some are hybrids with both for-profit and non-profit structures in place. The structural formats of these efforts are almost as varied as the efforts themselves.

As new efforts in this movement continue, proliferate, grow, and formalize, those involved must make distinct choices regarding entity choice and structure. Optimal structures should advance mission and accommodate funding, activities, and operations contemplated. These organizations may wish to conduct significant product sales or fee-for-service activities to fund their enterprise, akin to a business; they may rely on donations and grants for programming, as in a traditional nonprofit organization; they may wish to provide ownership interest to participants, as a co-op or mission-based business; they may rely on use of public or access to private land in a public-private partnership or land trust. They may wish to advocate for policy change related to their mission, and their founders may wish to maintain a certain level of control. All of these considerations should be a part of choosing the right entity and structure.

It’s best if a burgeoning, developing, and formalizing effort carefully chooses an infrastructure that takes into account anticipated mission and goals, rather than allow a less thoughtful entity choice result in unanticipated limitations on control, mission, revenue options, or activities. In this article, we set forth key considerations for certain entity type and structural options which may be relevant to this specific group of mission-based enterprises, providing summaries of some of the key considerations for each type. We also provide relevant real-world examples from the broad and inspiring movement of mission-based food production. We hope that this overview can help guide the thinking and further exploration by change agents who are a part of this movement about how to structure their mission-based food production efforts.

View the full article

Team members of the nonprofit Mentoring Positives in an industrial kitchen. Mentoring Positives works to build strong, trusting relationships, positive attitudes, and life skills in youth through mentoring and social youth entrepreneurship.