Amazingly, in this year of upheaval, disruption and uncertainty, AERO carried out 10 programs across its three focus areas of Food Systems, Community Engagement, and Network Weaving/Education, including its first ever virtual Expo.
While the pandemic significantly delayed the start of AERO’s flagship Food Systems program, the Montana Food Economy Initiative (MFEI), Grant Programs Manager Lindsay Ganong worked miracles, keeping the program on schedule. In less than six months (which included the farming season), she built a diverse advisory board to mentor twelve projects centered on community-led solutions for more sustainable and resilient community food systems. In 2020, AERO’s MFEI has provided 5 educational workshops and additional tools to support diverse coalition building, collective community-centric visioning, group facilitation, and digital storytelling.
Beyond the planned programming and the new programs inspired by the year’s events, AERO also completed a multi-year project designed to capture the voices and stories of early AERO leaders. With gratitude, we rest a little easier, knowing that AERO’s substantial impact on the sustainability movement in MT over the last 45+ years is available for future generations to discover and learn from on the MT Memory Project website.
In many ways the outcomes of AERO’s virtual Expo were the same as any previous year: engagement and connection by participants, new ideas coming forward and new collaborations for getting projects started. Still, in this year of isolation and separation, the experience of connecting over days and topic areas in the intimate visual setting that zoom video sessions offer, felt sweeter to us to both experience and witness. In fact, we plan to offer monthly Virtual Happy Hour sessions in 2021, to keep the momentum and connections going. To everyone who made the time to attend Expo 2020, thank you!
While it was a banner year for AERO programming, the organization struggled to keep up with operating expenses in 2020, mostly payroll costs. We had to relinquish the Co-Director model, reducing both staff and staff hours, to make ends meet. Nonetheless, there were some financial wins. While our membership numbers remain below 400, they increased slightly in 2020, and 75% of members are now sustaining contributors. Thank you! Also, we had more donors this year, and more donors contributing at a higher level; 43% of the budget came from members and donors. Lastly, we celebrated 27 AERO Business Partners in 2020, and already have welcomed several more in 2021.
We are committed to determining the best future for a sustainable AERO legacy in these new times that call for convening and network weaving expertise, and where partnerships and collaborations are critical for success. Stay tuned for Board communications in the months ahead on this topic and AERO’s future.