The Farm to Institution New England (FINE) is a network organization that brings together non-profit, public, and private entities from the six New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. FINE’s goal is to “work collaboratively to strengthen [New England’s] food system by increasing the amount of New England-grown and processed food served in [the] region’s schools, healthcare facilities, colleges and other institutions.” The network was first launched in 2010 as part of a joint initiative of the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) of the National Farm to School Network and as a collaboration of the New England agricultural commissioners  

This report was developed to better understand how network organizations can be an effective means for change. The Consensus Building Institute (CBI) prepared this report, drawing on interviews with staff, FINE’s leadership team, funders, and partner institutions that work closely with FINE and internal documents shared by FINE as well as internal documents shared by FINE. This report will not only showcase the important work that FINE is doing, but makes an argument that building strong networks for cross-organizational information sharing and collaborative work has value. While we are confident that network organizations can play a powerful role, we also want to recognize how difficult and time consuming creating a network can be. Based on our research, the Consensus Building Institute has identified a number of lessons that can be learned from FINE’s early history and evolution to date. This is not an exhaustive list, but includes some key principles that we believe are transferrable to other similar networks.  CBI would like to thank FINE and the many individuals we spoke with for sharing their story with us. 

Melissa Deas is a Senior Fellow at CBI.