In January 2011, Southern Foodways Alliance staff, along with representatives from our board of directors, met to draft a vision for the SFA in ten years. What follows is our vision for the year 2021, when the Alliance begins its 22nd year.
The SFA is one of the nation’s most creative, educational, and ingenious not-for-profits. Southerners recognize us as a progressive force that documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of our changing region. Our members and donors take great pride in the stories we tell and the lives we celebrate. Throughout the nation, people recognize that the SFA has pioneered a much-emulated and intellectually rigorous program of cultural inquiry that calls a diverse community to a common table where black and white, rich and poor, young and old — all who gather– may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.
The SFA Board never approves a deficit budget. Proceeds from operating in the black are annually transferred to University Foundation accounts where they yield interest. Major donors and grant foundations fund SFA operating activities.
The SFA has four accounts at the University of Mississippi Foundation. The first is an operational account, which maintains a rainy day balance equal to two years of SFA operating expenses (salaries plus expenses, exclusive of event costs). The John Egerton Prize Endowment is fully funded, and distributes a $5000 award each fall to a deserving recipient whose work uses the lens of food to address issues of social justice. The SFA Endowment has reached a level where the interest payments fully fund the SFA director’s position, which is the first endowed staff position at the University of Mississippi. Contributions to that endowment continue to be accepted with the ultimate goal of endowing several SFA staff positions and internship awards. A third endowment account, with start-up funding from a challenge grant, endows a Southern Foodways Professorship at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
The University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Foundation manage finances for the SFA. The SFA pays an outside accounting firm to audit the books quarterly. Members are notified of SFA’s financial situation in the board’s annual report.
DONORS AND MEMBERS
The SFA has successfully transitioned from a sponsor model to a donor model. Donors — either as individuals or on behalf of a like-minded company — give money to the SFA because they believe in the organization’s mission and good work. Donors do receive receipts for their gifts, but product placement and SFA endorsement of goods and services are not conditions of funding.
More than 2,000 people are SFA members. The diversity of SFA’s membership is reflective of the diversity of our region. Members are engaged and see value in the organization. Financial considerations are not a barrier to entry. Memberships are priced affordably, or given for free to individuals who volunteer time at an SFA Skillet Brigade. Increased membership and engagement has aided fundraising efforts; as member involvement grows, so, too, does member financial support.
Grants are pursued for the primary purpose of supporting SFA’s documentary initiatives. Each year, SFA submits two major grant applications, one that supports oral history and one that supports film. The SFA has recently been awarded Challenge Grant Funding to support an SFA professorship in food studies, and fundraising to meet the required financial match recently concluded.
The Board of Directors is comprised of roughly half fundraisers and half advisors. The Board is active in recruiting new donors and maintaining good relationships with existing benefactors. Board fundraisers, working in concert with the director, have brought in 10 new donors adding $500,000 per year to the revenue stream. The UM Foundation dedicates a part-time development officer to the SFA.
The Silver Skillet Society recognizes SFA members who make significant annual pledges to the organization. Around 50 individual members have made annual $1,000 donations, providing another financial support system for the growing SFA.
The SFA has an inclusive vision for events, and is dedicated to making events accessible and affordable for all. While every event is responsibly budgeted on a break-even model, SFA works to contain the cost of the symposium and field trip tickets with proceeds from donor dollars.
The SFA is a non-profit organization that expects much from its employees in terms of time and effort, but staff members are compensated well.
The size of the staff has grown as the SFA has increased the depth and scope of its work. The staff skill set meets the organization’s growing demands. Staff works collaboratively with one another and with the SFA board to regularly review and redesign roles of individuals while remaining fiscally responsible to the organization. SFA staff members are annually offered short sabbaticals that may be used for continuing education/professional development. A clear management succession plan is in place.
As oral history work has expanded, the SFA hired another full-time field oral historian. The senior oral historian manages the field oral historian, as well as 2-3 part-time oral historians. The senior historian also manages 3 interns (one guided, two in-house) per year, as well as a Southern Studies graduate assistant. SFA employs two full-time filmmakers, contracted through the Media and Documentary Projects Center at the University of Mississippi.
SFA sponsors a post-doctoral fellow program. The post-doctoral fellow teaches one graduate level and one undergraduate Southern Studies course focused on foodways each semester and has ample time to research and write to prepare his/her dissertation for publication. The University has hired a tenure-track Professor of Foodways. Her research is breaking new ground in the field. Two Southern Studies graduate assistants work with the SFA, one working with oral history and the other working as an office assistant. We host up to six interns per year. Three interns work with oral history; other students intern with film work, in event planning, or in nonprofit management. The SFA annually awards a three-month artist residency that is interdisciplinary and creative in nature, with the objective of producing a programming component for the symposium.
The senior events coordinator leads the events team. The team consists of a part-time events assistant, one intern per year, and an outside event management company (contracted for specific parts of specific events, such as the symposium).
SFA AS DESTINATION
SFA headquarters is a destination point for colleagues, members, researchers, and curious travelers. We invite people to visit the organization’s offices on the University of Mississippi campus in an effort to learn more about our work, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and our home state of Mississippi. Visitors can conduct research in our archives, view SFA films, and meet with staff members. If we know you’re coming, we’ll have SFA-style refreshments waiting for you. Catfish rinds and archival research, that’s our style.
SIGNAGE AT THE CENTER
SFA headquarters is located within Barnard Observatory, the same building that the Center for the Study of Southern Culture calls home. In an effort to make the SFA’s location more obvious to visitors and friends, a handmade SFA logo sign marks the staircase leading to the SFA offices.
We also have designated space near the reception desk, which gives visitors to the Center a brief introduction to the SFA through a variety of collateral materials such as past issues of our food letter, Gravy, as well as playful objects that are leftover props from past events. The corn piñata is a staff favorite.
UPSTAIRS BULLPEN OFFICE
SFA offices are a physical reflection of the organization’s personality and vision. Much of SFA staff works within a semi-open space—a space that inspires communication and collaboration. There is dedicated storage space; private offices for research, conference calls, and multi-media production; a lounge area for staff meetings and hosting visitors. The space is versatile enough to be used for everything from board meetings to small film screenings.
ARCHIVE SPACE IN THE LIBRARY WITH WORK/TECH STATION
We deposit all of our documentary work—oral histories and films—as well as all materials related to the history of the organization with Archives & Special Collections at the University of Mississippi’s J. D. Williams Library. In an effort to inspire people to make the best use of our archive, we’ve partnered with Archives & Special Collections to create a dedicated SFA workstation within the library. Here, scholars can pour through SFA interviews and photographs, interns can access materials to create multi-media projects such as SFA podcasts, and SFA staff can access and deposit original materials all in one location. As we continue making use of technological advances to disseminate and preserve our work, a dedicated station that houses all necessary equipment, software, and resources is a necessity.
AN SFA AIRSTREAM TO TAKE ON THE ROAD
Part of collecting the stories behind the food means conducting interviews in less-than-ideal recording environments. In an effort to have access to a controlled recording environment and be able to host oral history subjects in an SFA-style space, we now have a mobile recording studio available to travel throughout the region to collect interviews for oral history projects, serve as a recording booth during SFA events, and spread the good word about the SFA along our regions highways and byways. When appropriate, the rig also serves as housing for staff members on the road, cutting down on lodging costs considerably.
The growth of the SFA has prompted the necessary growth of its annual events. Though October’s Oxford symposium remains small, accommodating about 300 people, annually the SFA hosts one large event—a Foodways Congress—in Atlanta, Georgia, for a much larger crowd. The Foodways Congress combines SFA film screenings with public lectures and panel discussions to further explore the year’s theme of study, and it invites localized alliances and their members to present and join the discussion. The event hosts large concurrent sessions and small group sessions.
The number of SFA community events, including Potlikker Film Festivals, has increased to twelve or more per year, with the assistance of an outside consultant and member hosts. Stir the Pot celebrations, inspired by Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Downtown Diner, account for at least six events. The Field Trip is staged each summer in a different location, and the symposium convenes each October in Oxford, Mississippi. SFA programming is dedicated to interdisciplinary arts. Skillet Brigades have increased in size and frequency.
WORKSHOPS AND GIVING BACK
SFA annually hosts an “SFA Way” program at the Foodways Congress, and hosts smaller versions of this workshop in different regions of the country each year. The purpose of SFA Way workshops is twofold: to mentor organizations that want to learn to program contextually appropriate events, and to teach communities that have hosted the SFA in the past how to leverage our existing work for continued economic development opportunities. SFA Way programming is part of our initiative to give back. Fellowships and scholarships are available to make attendance affordable.
SFA Board Members host one Skillet Brigade each year, encouraging members to pitch in to meet needs in their communities. Skillet Brigades are a good recruitment tool for new members, and all volunteers receive a complimentary SFA membership for their first year.
Capacity building has become an important facet of SFA work. Each year, working in partnership with other national food organizations, we advise and counsel artisanal producers and restaurants. We recognize now that when we highlight an individual and their work, we have a responsibility to help them shoulder the increased business and press attention that comes. We help them through an annual best practices handbook for small food businesses.
SFA MEDIA AND PUBLICATION
SFA media efforts have exploded and are now managed by a full-time editorial manager. We repurpose material from our documentary initiatives by way of our Gravy Boat and Gravy Stream, to create our own syndicated radio program. After the popular debut of Southern Food: The Film, other SFA movies are also regularly screened in public media. The Gravy food letter has expanded and improved, hosting more writers and articles, and is now shared with a national audience. SFA has two ongoing book series,Cornbread Nation and the Symposium Series that explores the year’s topic of study. We have ten books completed or under contract. Additionally, we’ve just launched an online academic journal for foodways study.
Our oral history research has yielded more than 1,000 interviews. All our archives are available via the hippest, coolest, newest media consumption devices.
The SFA oral history program director manages relationships with colleges across the nation. They partner with us to do oral histories, under SFA direction. We catalogue and disseminate their work. And we mentor their students.
SFA expertise in film and oral history has become the basis for a number of books. Five years back, the senior oral historian published a “best of the SFA” oral history compilation book. Following that have come “how to” guides and state-by-state compilations, some published as physical books, others as e-books and websites.
SFA has an ongoing relationship with two public broadcasting entities. One is in the South. Another is beyond the region. Our work, whether in packages of short films, or as long narrative pieces, plays regularly on public media.
Film work by the SFA is also featured regularly at festivals and conferences. The SFA continues to offer that content free of charge. To help with the dissemination of SFA film and oral history, a full time editorial manager oversees the relationships we’ve developed, helping garner as wide an audience as possible, and helping deliver the appropriate SFA messages to that audience.
SFA films are a part of teaching curriculums in middle schools across the region. We now package each film with a curriculum plan. And we work with the Education Department at the University of Mississippi to get this done.
SFA underwriting provides one undergraduate scholarship per year to the Southern Studies program. That scholarship has become quite competitive, with 50 qualified applicants per year.
Two Southern Studies graduate assistants work with us each semester. One serves the oral history program. The other works as an office assistant.
We host six interns each year. Initially such interns worked in only oral history. Now we have students who work with film projects, event planning, and nonprofit management, too. As their numbers increase, SFA-trained folk are spreading through the creative and non profit worlds, bringing our systems and ethics to the numerous foodways organizations now operating.
We’re ten years into our post-doctoral fellow program. Every two years when we add a new one, the candidate pool for that position tops fifty folks.
Five years ago, the University hired a tenure track professor of foodways. Her work focuses on race and food. She just earned tenure. Her work, especially her work on intersections between race, class, health, and diet, is breaking new ground in the field.