Affinity groups are a means for building capacity and connections needed to fulfill the Heartland Food Business Center’s mission of ensuring local and regional food system entrepreneurs have the right resource at the right time on their business building journey. 

Affinity groups facilitate: 

  1. Co-learning – Sharing of information and expertise among Heartland Food Business Center partners and peers.   
  1. Collaboration – Identifying and pursuing opportunities for coordination and collective action across the five-state region.   

Stakeholders and peers with similar interests are welcome to join Heartland Center affinity groups. 

The following is a list of affinity groups that will send their specific meeting information. Enter your information beside every one of interest.

Farm to School

The Farm to School affinity group explores resources and opportunities for building farm to school programs and supply networks in the five state Heartland region.  

Leader: Jaclyn Carroll, Farm Business Counselor, New Growth

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Food Hubs

This group endeavors to build a regional community of practice with food hub operators and resource providers learning together.  

Leader: Bill McKelvey, Senior Project Coordinator, University of Missouri Extension 

Food Processing

The Food Processing affinity group is a team of business assistance providers learning about available and needed food processing resources in the region. The group will work together and with partners to identify and fill food processing resource gaps.  

Leader: Christa Hartsook, Small Farms Program Manager, Iowa State University Extension 

Land Access

This group intends to learn about and connect and strategize with those working on and interested in land access strategies.

Leader: Leah Vinton, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim

Leveraging USDA Resources

Optimizing and maximizing deployment of USDA food system resources in the five-state Heartland Center region is the overall purpose of this affinity group.

Leader: Katie Nixon, Food Systems Director, New Growth


The logistics affinity group works to identify and understand the transportation, warehousing, and related resources and systems for moving food that are in place in the five-state Heartland region. It aims to identify opportunities for addressing local and regional food system logistics challenges

Leader: Steve Schulz, Assistant Professor of Management, University of Nebraska-Omaha

Food and Farm Policy

This affinity group is focused on building connections among on-the-ground food policy councils and networks. It facilitates peer-to-peer learning with quarterly webinars covering food and farm policy challenges and solutions in the Heartland region.  

Leader: Emma Shankland, Food Policy Director, KC Healthy Kids 

Small Business Development

The small business development affinity group brings technical assistance providers together to share resources, approaches, and knowledge. Their focus is strengthening networks and resources for small, mid-size, and diverse food and farm entrepreneurs working in local and regional markets.    

Leader: Jaclyn Carroll, Farm Business Counselor, New Growth

Please contact us at the Heartland Center with any questions: