The Northeast Food Knowledge Ecosystem (NEFKE) is collaborative effort seeking to make food system related knowledge resources more discoverable, usable and easier to share, supporting and connecting a broad range of food systems practitioners, researchers, educators and supporters across the Northeast U.S. and beyond.

We envision this evolving knowledge ecosystem fostering a “network of networks”, helping link and align private, public and civil society sector knowledge assets and efforts in support of both individual and shared goals, and ongoing virtuous cycles of innovation.

Collectively, we seek measurable improvement related to: sustainable agriculture; healthful, equitable food systems; and the associated well-being and adaptive capacity of communities and landscapes across our region.

Networked learning, informed, coordinated decision making, and collaboration based on trust and complex reciprocity are recognized as critical in realizing those aspirations.

Developing network infrastructure, services, standards and governance systems connecting not replacing existing efforts, supporting the above through relationship building is a central aspect of our work.

There are a growing number and impressive variety of initiatives seeking to cultivate healthy and resilient food systems in the Northeast, but much of it is disconnected or uncoordinated, resulting in duplication of effort and competition for resources. At the same time, increasingly erratic and challenging economic, social and environmental conditions require greater adaptive capacity and innovation across multiple scales.

A wealth of useful assets already exist within and beyond our region, including publicly available data and practitioner knowledge. But accessing, sharing and using these disparate and sometimes siloed resources can be difficult. Information technology, systems based approaches, and networked strategies can connect people and improve information flow in support of shared food system outcomes. Successful methods and models could be shared, adapted and scaled more readily. Practitioners would be better connected to each other and to the work of researchers and educators. Funders and investors would be more informed and able to make strategic, coordinated, long term investments in local and regional food systems. NEFKE is a collaborative approach to addressing these needs and opportunities.

The need for NEFKE emerged out of conversations over several years within the Research and Assessment Workgroup of NESAWG. Members voiced common challenges in accessing, using and sharing data and information supporting regional food systems work. There was a growing realization that many were struggling with this in isolation, duplicating efforts and competing for resources though sharing similar goals.

Over the past two years, through generous support from the John Merck Fund Regional Food Systems program, the NEFKE project team has been implementing the pilot phase of this evolving vision for linking people, technology and information in support of food system goals. Our initial focus has been on Farm to Institution value chains in New England. A team of collaborators, content experts and technicians have researched, explored, and tested tools and methods, developing prototype resources and platforms, including this website.

Upgrading Our Regional Information Infrastructure

Several mutually reinforcing activities are planned or under way as part of NEFKE's capacity building efforts:

  • Developing shared information systems and resources, including online platforms, knowledge commons, and open data hubs based on open source/access/standards solutions.
  • Which include specialized tools such as data visualization and mapping tools, and a shared registry indexing people, organizations, projects, events and resources.

  • Linking these together as part of a federated network architecture which builds on and strengthens strategic partnerships among institutions, organizations, and networks.

  • Complementary services such as technical trainings and information literacy building initiatives.

This video from Markets for Good highlights several aspects of our work “upgrading our information infrastructure” in support of positive food systems change:

Networked Learning

One primary focus of NEFKE is support for networked learning, helping regional food systems stakeholders and the organizations, enterprises and communities of learning/practice they represent:

  • Assess existing conditions, needs, projects, opportunities and assets
  • Clarify goals and outcomes, and relevant indicators of success
  • Develop, adapt, and implement innovative tools and strategies
  • Monitor and evaluate individual, programmatic, organizational and regional impact/progress 

Networked Leadership

Another hoped for outcome of our work is networked food system leadership, helping those actively engaged in food systems work in their communities and regions to connect and share with each other, and to build social capital across the Northeast. This video from the Barr Foundation describes similar work they are doing in Boston:

The long-term success and sustainability of this food knowledge ecosystem depends on trust and shared commitments to further develop the infrastructure, engage others, and oversee its evolution. While NESAWG will serve as one of several backbone organizations for this endeavor, it seeks to advance NEFKE through shared leadership with others that generate and/or work with food systems information at all levels.

An inclusive networked governance structure is necessary to move NEFKE forward. While still evolving, we are convening a group of individuals (with representation from all network partner orgs) to guide ongoing design and oversight of issues related to:

  • Data formatting, reporting and sharing standards
  • Content priorities and taxonomies (shared vocabularies/tagging systems)
  • Information sharing policies and protocols, including intellectual property and privacy
  • Scaling out NEFKE beyond the pilot phase
  • Outreach and training
  • Developing and updating knowledge platforms and tools
  • Long term sustainability

Stay tuned, and check back here for updates!