Transformational Leadership

We believe that working together to grow gardens, share food and power, and advocate for just systems – cultivates a healthy community for all.


In 2019, Cultivate sponsored Soul Fire Farm to host an Uprooting Racism workshop for over 100 food justice advocates in Charlottesville. One tool they shared is an organizational assessment with six tenants that help you analyze your place as an antiracist organization. Out of this work, Cultivate developed an Uprooting Racism Action Plan that outlines our aspirations and action steps in each of the tenets. As we look at the tenet of Decision-Making, Power and Authority we are exploring how our organizational structure builds equity and asking:

What does it mean to share power?

What does a just organizational system look like?  

How do we practice uprooting racism and building racial equity in the way we work together?  

What does transformational leadership look like?  

As we explore and deepen our antiracist analysis we are drawn to transforming the traditional organizational structure that concentrates leadership at the top into a transformational leadership model.

This vision includes: 

  • Cultivate leadership is shared, active at every level of the organization, and grounded in racial equity.
  • Cultivate programs are integrated and create a complex system where goals are addressed with  multiple strategies, and strategies provide impact across multiple goals.   
  • Cultivate leadership clearly practices our values and focuses on program impacts.
  • Cultivate is a diverse, multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-gender, multi-skilled work  community that is respected, cared for, and well utilized. 
  • Cultivate impacts partner institutions as an activist and networking force that amplifies food equity.

Our transformational leadership model includes:

  • Equity-Focus: The foundation of the transformational leadership model is working to practice equity in all we do. This includes working to dismantle racist practices and systems. Equity also includes the experiences of all people, avoiding dominant culture assumptions, and prioritizing trusting relationships, mutual respect, cultural awareness, giving and receiving feedback, being self-reflective, being accountable for our actions, and centering community leadership
  • Community Leadership: We are growing our organizational structure to center community leadership. Community Engagement Cohorts include paid Youth Food Justice Interns (high school students), Food Justice Apprentices (ages 18-24), and Neighborhood Community Advocates. 
  • Shared Leadership: Having co-executive directors and sharing power breaks down the model of one top decider and provides opportunities for more diverse and dynamic leadership. We believe shared leadership is one way to practice our values, amplify diverse skill sets, create balance in our work, increase community engagement, and create equity where multiple perspectives, skills, and  experiences are valued. We anticipate evolving our leadership structure as our work becomes more deeply rooted in racial equity.
  • Distributed Leadership: Each staff member has a range of decisions they direct within their role and functional area and we encourage collaborative decision-making at every level of the organization—including youth and community members, staff, and board. Strategic decisions are often made on a tiered approach and are strengthened by collective involvement. 
  • Stepping into Leadership: In addition to our roles and responsibilities, we believe each person steps into leadership through how they show up at work and aspire to be an agent for change. Being a transformational change agent is not just what we do. It includes how we analyze the work and our place in it, taking care to understand underlying racial inequities (see). It also includes how we show up in our work with authenticity and by practicing our values and guidelines for working together (be). This is the Doing, Seeing, and Being of a transformational leader.
  • Integration across Programs: Cultivate aims to build food equity personally, in community, and across systems and structures. To do this, we view our organization as a system of inter-related programs. While we aim to hold the uniqueness of how each program evolved from community vision, we also aim to integrate and pollinate across initiatives in a way that reflects the lived experience of community members facing food insecurity.