NAFSN Professional Development Certification

The purpose of the NAFSN’s Professional Development Training and Certification is to equip food systems development practitioners with a strong foundation of community development–based skills and tools that will maximize the efficiency and efficacy of their work, nurture their own personal livelihoods, and offer a more satisfying career in food systems work—all of which were identified as issues in the NAFSN survey. NAFSN’s programs and services related to professional development will create opportunities for personal growth, recognition, income stabilization, and job satisfaction in the emerging field of food systems work. We expect this training to encourage more effective project leadership and project success in the field. This is especially critical in an era of increasing needs and declining resources.

Other nonprofit groups as well as public agencies provide some training, and for some individuals there are even degree programs in food systems work. These vary in practicality and expense, making it difficult for many practitioners to justify or manage time away from their work to pursue additional training independently.

In addition, numerous gaps exist in available training (e.g., benchmarking and economic impact analysis). Current live and online training opportunities are not highly coordinated, convenient, affordable, or perhaps even known to practitioners. Training, especially for individuals with limited time and resources and those new to food systems work will find the current smattering of training opportunities piecemeal and difficult to keep track of. It is in this context that NAFSN proposes to reinvent the training landscape by aggregating information about existing training, filling gaps in training, and developing a means of receiving credit for participating in professional development.

Online Certification Curriculum Concept

An EXAMPLE of a possible curriculum is outlined below. Note that this is for discussion purposes only. The eventual curriculum will be created by a team of national food systems and curriculum development experts. NAFSN operates on the assumption that good practices are in constant evolution and therefore our curriculum will need to be continually updated and improved.

Curriculum clusters are made up of units (or modules), which emphasize principles, good practices, and case studies of both successful and failed projects. Self-paced online units include readings, charts and graphs, digital videos of instructors (including presentations from conferences, webinars, and the like), and reflective exercises such as multiple-choice exams to reinforce learning. [A minimum score of 90% on an exercise is required to receive continuing education unit (CEU) credit.] The completion of a unit online is automatically tracked with credit applied toward certification. Interactive social networking tools on the NAFSN website will allow practitioners to discuss unit content with other members and online mentors as well. NAFSN members will have an online account and a personal dashboard, which allows them to plan and track their personalized training curriculum.

Two Potential Food Systems Development Certification Tracks

Not all NAFSN members will be interested in certification (45.2% reported interest in our survey (i.e., 492 out of 1089 respondents)). If an individual does wish to become a “certified food systems development practitioner,” NAFSN can offer two starter tracks: generalist and specialist certification. In addition to completing a specific number of CEUs, certification could require peer-review of a project report that describes a recent project that the member took (shared) leadership of highlighting some of the good practices and lessons learned from their certification training. New certifications would be recognized and awarded at NAFSN conferences. Furthermore, maintaining certification would likely require a specific level of continuing education credits as agreed to by NAFSN membership.

Food Systems Development Certification Curriculum Clusters

1. Foundations of Practice Cluster 

Both Generalists and Specialists must complete the foundation unit, food policy unit, infrastructure unit, and wicked problems unit, plus an additional 3 additional units
  • Foundations of community development practice (required)
  • Introduction to food systems infrastructure and programming (including collaborating holistically across the clusters) (required)
  • Local/regional food policy (FPCs, legal aspects of local food and farming ordinances) (required)
  • Wicked problems in food systems (required)
  • Community structure and institutions
  • Enterprise development and entrepreneurship
  • Funding and financing food systems development
  • Community asset mapping
  • Community engagement (stakeholder and force-field analysis)
  • Politics of food (food security and food sovereignty)
  • Program evaluation and impact metrics
  • Working with diverse audiences and across cultures
  • (Rapid) rural appraisals
  • Food systems mapping
  • Leadership development and team collaboration
  • Community capacity building
  • Conducting feasibility studies
  • Waste and byproduct management
  • Employment opportunities in food systems work

2. Production Cluster 

Generalists must complete this cluster’s foundation unit plus 3 additional units for general certification; Production Cluster Specialists must complete all units
  • Foundations in farm retention and expansion (required)
  • Beginning farmers programming
  • Farm incubator start-up and management
  • Farm financing
  • Farmland protection planning
  • Issues in farm labor
  • Farm-neighbor relations
  • On-farm processing
  • Good Management Practices programming
  • Good Handling Practices programming
  • Urban agriculture (from community gardens to commercial urban farming)

3. Supply/Value Chain Cluster

Generalists complete this cluster’s foundation unit plus 3 additional units for general certification; Supply/Value Chain Cluster Specialists must complete all units
  • Foundations in food value-chains (required)
  • Community-based direct marketing development (e.g., farmers’ markets as microenterprise incubators)
  • Agriculture of the middle
  • Farm2Institution programming
  • Wholesale value chains (distributors, processors, packers)
  • Cooperative value chains (including grower/new gen cooperatives, food hubs and the like)
  • Shared-use kitchens and/or kitchen incubators
  • Regional meat processing (MPUs, packing house retention and expansion)
  • Agritourism (farm and food trails, festivals, regional identity branding and marketing, geographic indications, buy-local campaigns)

4. Consumption Cluster

Generalists complete this cluster’s foundation unit plus 3 additional units for general certification; Consumption Cluster Specialists must complete all units
  • Foundations of community food security (required)
  • Conducting community food assessments
  • Empowerment and capacity building
  • Community nutrition intervention programming
  • Food security infrastructure (mobile farmers markets’, community gardens, food banks, congregate meals sites, kitchen pantries, community kitchens, gleaning programs, etc.)
  • Government and private sector initiatives (SNAP, WIC, Senior Coupons, Double Up Food Bucks, etc.)
  • Public education and outreach
  • Recycling/composting programming.

Training Portal

The training portal on the NAFSN website is where members accesses their training dashboard, complete online training units, and can communicate with other colleagues in trainings using social networking tools. In some cases, portal users will be directed by hyperlinks to partner and other organization websites for a training unit. Information on live training opportunities from around North America that includes conferences, webinars, and other live professional development training opportunities (which can be credited toward certification) could also be presented in a searchable database and calendar format.