Together, people make progress

For EarthDance Managing Director Tiffany Brewer, progress is people working together to build healthy community. “Progress doesn’t just happen, people make it happen,” she said.

And, for Tiffany, collaborative work toward healthy community is at the core of her approach to leadership at the Ferguson, Missouri organic teaching farm. It works well with an organization whose mission is to advance food justice by training organic farmers and gardeners of all ages, to provide connection to healthy food and the land, and to cultivate vibrant community.

For EarthDance Managing Director Tiffany Brewer (left), progress is people working together to build healthy community.

Tiffany’s approach mirrors that of the FOCUS St. Louis Emerging Leaders program, in which she participated this past spring. Emerging Leaders (EL) is a 3-month professional development program aimed at helping rising leaders hone their approach and to examine regional issues, with an emphasis on hearing varying perspectives and building lasting connections with other community and organizational leaders; in other words, people working together to make progress happen.

And, the people-making-progress approach also mirrors that of the leaders within A Red Circle (ARC), another non-profit in North County doing big work in the food justice sphere. Tiffany, who knows the Founder and Executive Director of A Red Circle, Erica Williams, shared that she views Erica as someone who, since the organization’s founding in 2017, has been fostering all kinds of progress in connection with people in the communities that ARC serves. Also, EarthDance and A Red Circle have a growing collaborative relationship around farming and food equity work in North County.

So it was propitious when Tiffany’s EL group was selected to support ARC as part of their EL capstone.

Emerging Leaders

Relatively new to the EarthDance Managing Director role, Tiffany had been seeking programs that offer leadership fellowship and professional development. She applied to participate in the Emerging Leaders program at the suggestion of EarthDance board of directors chair Helen Lee and was accepted, starting with her cohort of about 30 local leaders in January 2022.

Tiffany (left) works with EarthDance staff during a “Soil Time” staff meeting. Photo by Kentaro Kumanomido

The EL program included large and small group work, and each small group was assigned a non-profit in need of some assistance on a variety of projects. Tiffany’s small group of five included people in finance, social services, real estate, and, of course, organic farming and food justice.

When Tiffany learned that her group had been selected to support A Red Circle’s Community Grocery Store project, she was stoked. Not only is the grocery store project securely in the wheelhouse of her own professional passion and well connected with an area of her expertise, but she has been aware of and impressed with the work of A Red Circle for years. “Erica is a person who makes things happen,” Tiffany said. And her Emerging Leaders group of 5 professionals seemed to be a complementary fit for the ARC project to which the EL team assigned them.

A Red Circle

A Red Circle’s purpose is economic development through a racial equity lens, according to Good Food Organizer Daria Keys. The organization is currently working to fundraise for, create, and build the community grocery store project in North St. Louis County. ARC works in several social and economic spheres, including employment, education, holistic living, policy, and the arts. Food justice affects and is affected by all of them. 

Digital rendering of proposed A Red Circle Community Grocery Store location, by Doug Kouba of Kouba and Knoop, courtesy of ARC

Community engagement is at the heart of all of the work being done by ARC, Daria said, so it just made sense that, when FOCUS St. Louis offered to provide some leadership consultation support for the grocery store project through the Emerging Leaders program, ARC happily accepted.

As Daria described, there is a great need for people working together toward progress around food justice. According to the USDA Food Access Research Atlas, more than 70% of North St. Louis County is considered a food desert. This means there isn’t nearly sufficient access to nutritious food for the people who live there. According to ARC’s draft Case for Support of the community grocery store – which Tiffany’s EL group helped ARC hone – only 22 of the 68 census tracts served by ARC have grocery stores. “And most of them are not full-service grocery stores,” Daria said. “This means many more of these areas are food deserts, where there is low or no availability of healthy food, even where there is some food available.”

Strengthening the case for support

“Working with the Emerging Leaders has been such a blessing,” Daria said. “They came in right on time with everything. They helped us build and strengthen our fundraising team – helping us delegate who will lead progress for fundraising, helping us identify key stakeholders and grants to secure funding. They helped us improve communication and determine who the development team would be.” ARC has since hired a development specialist, and the work of the Good Food arm of ARC is more tightly focused than ever, she said. “They also helped us solidify a plan to increase our fundraising goal,” Daria said, stating that what had been a six figure goal is now seven.

“Fortunately, the individuals in our cohort were problem solvers,” Tiffany said. “And, successful non-profits have to have a solid team focused on fundraising for a project like this.”

“They helped us see that we might have to slow down, build out a longer term project and ask for more money,” Daria said. “And, they helped us in creating a more in-depth case for support, helping us to understand that we need to tailor the way we tell that story to each audience from which we are seeking support.”

Right now, the official draft of the case for support is being reviewed by the ARC Community Council, a growing group of community members, lawmakers, and young people that ARC has gathered to help ensure the store is always about the community.

“The EL cohort gave A Red Circle just a push in the direction,” Tiffany said. “The dots weren’t fully connected, so we asked good questions to help hone in and connect some of those dots.” Daria agreed.

Growth Edge

Would Tiffany recommend the Emerging Leaders program to other leaders based on her own experience with it? Yes!

“For us, as individuals who are all looking for this opportunity for growth, each having our own perspectives of things – and in our case, wanting to do a good job for A Red Cirlce – made it easy and a great learning experience to work together,” Tiffany said. “There were some topics and sessions that were polarizing – like the school to prison pipeline and race relations – those are some issues that make it hard for individuals to voice their opinions, but forces them to really take in all the facts and how those facts play a role. Some individuals were transparent enough to say that those classes were enriching and that they now see things in a different way.”

Tiffany hopes to remain connected with Emerging Leaders and the Community Grocery Store project. And, EarthDance is thankful for any opportunity to work in connection with A Red Circle.

For more information on the Focus St. Louis Emerging Leaders program, visit their website.

For more on A Red Circle and the Community Grocery Store project, visit their website. Or, donate directly to the ARC Community Grocery Store project.

(Photo): ARC Good Food Organizer Daria Keys (left) and EarthDance Managing Director Tiffany Brewer. Photo by Jess Garrett

Story by Americorps Storytelling VISTA Jess Garrett