Bringing Rural Focus to BALLE 2018 Local Economy Fellowship

 “Ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation is derived from the photosynthetic process - green plants growing on regenerating soil.” -Allan Savory

BALLE is pleased to announce that applications are now open for the 2018-2019 BALLE Local Economy Fellowship – and I am excited to say this year we will be seeking North America’s top rural leaders.

As Sallie Calhoun, rancher and investor and member of BALLE’s Leadership Network says, we want to be able to say we did all we could to ensure a habitable climate and lasting farmland – we want to say we have “no regrets.” Scientists have repeatedly warned that decisions in this decade will largely define our likelihood of a stable climate and the state of the world for the rest of the century. Rural communities practicing regenerative agriculture to revitalize the soil and build productive livelihoods in rural areas are key.

Both on and off of farms, there is a renewal happening in the heartland – entrepreneurs are working to build great businesses in the new economy but have barriers in their way. While rural America was front and center in the 2016 federal election, the media headlines that focused on the depth of rural challenges did not portray a complete picture of the creativity coming from these areas. In this new Local Economy Fellowship cohort we are eager to learn from pioneering organizations like the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, the Rural Development Innovation Group and the National Sustainable Agricultural Association. Each is working to create more opportunity for more people, where it’s needed.

Now, more than ever, progress is going to come from our local places, and we are committed to bringing to bear the full support, wisdom, and connections of the BALLE Leadership Network to rural communities.

For six years, the BALLE Local Economy Fellowship has focused on the leaders who are independently and collaboratively developing a new economy that is healthy and equitable.  Local Economy Fellows are people who love where they live and who use their entrepreneurial spirit, passion, new economic vision, and tremendous leadership to connect whole networks of community entrepreneurs. Eighty three percent of leaders in the first four cohorts focus on communities and populations that are under-resourced and/or have been intentionally marginalized. They directly serve nearly 85,000 small businesses in 35 states and provinces.

Fellows participate in a two year leadership program, and then are woven into the broader BALLE Leadership Network, which is working together to re-imagine and build a new economic system.

For the 2018 cohort, we will identify leaders who are effectively convening rural businesses and entrepreneurs and supporting the development of locally-based, regenerative rural enterprise. We will select leaders who are working to steward our land, water, soil, and climate and those who are engaged at the intersection of local business development and government policy. They may be leading rural energy networks, biodynamic agriculture hubs, sustainable tourism outfits, accelerators of nature-based businesses, indigenous or minority farming networks, or otherwise be transforming rural economies – and as a result, reinvigorating the broader North American economy.


At the 2016 BALLE Leadership Summit, the BALLE Leadership Network told us: it is time to focus on the heartland.

At the 2016 BALLE Leadership Summit, the BALLE Leadership Network told us: it is time to focus on the heartland.


A focus on what’s happening in rural communities is a natural evolution for the network. Since BALLE’s founding in 2001, some of the earliest local leaders were connecting local food systems, marketing local food, and training new farmers. The second cohort focused much more on food justice and access in cities. By the third cohort, Local Economy Fellows included Sara Day Evans, who runs a nature-based business accelerator Accelerating Appalachia, and Euneika Rogers-Sipp, founder and former chief regenerative officer of  SUREFF (Sustainable Rural Regenerative Enterprises for Families), which focuses on regenerative soil techniques to reduce atmospheric carbon amidst the socioeconomic realities in America’s fertile Black Belt region. The fourth cohort included leaders like Ines Polonius of Communities Unlimited, which is leading wealth-creation value chains in rural areas. Ines is part of a group of Appalachian leaders in this cohort who are all working on a “just transition” from tobacco and coal to diverse, locally-owned enterprises.


“Talking about soil at a business conference? That never happens. Never!” Joel Salatin reflects at the 2015 BALLE Conference on how important but under-recognized soil health is to the broader economy.

“Talking about soil at a business conference? That never happens. Never!” Joel Salatin reflects at the 2015 BALLE Conference on how important but under-recognized soil health is to the broader economy.


Time is of the essence to put a concerted focus here, says Local Economy Fellow Anthony Flaccavento of SCALE (Sequestering Carbon, Accelerating Local Economies). “Of course there are many efforts underway to build and rebuild a more progressive politics and economy in our country now.  But consistently, and to this day, I find precious little connection between those efforts and the rural communities where some of us live and work, nor with the language and values of many of our folks.”

Fellows in the 2018 cohort – as with past cohorts – will be supported to enhance the strength of their organizations, to evolve their own personal leadership (including a focus on racial equity and transformative development), and they will join a network of some of North America’s most innovative and effective local economy leaders, funders, and investors. Members of our Leadership Network, in choosing rural leadership as a theme for this cohort, also expect to expand their understanding and to be changed by this new group of leaders as well.

We look ahead with deep appreciation and anticipation. Please send us nominations or encourage leaders you know to apply!

Learn More & Apply Now!


The BALLE Local Economy Fellowship is made possible by the support of:

Flora Family Foundation     Kendeda Fund     Lydia B. Stokes Foundation

No Regrets Initiative     NoVo Foundation     Sandy River Charitable Foundation

Solidago Foundation     Surdna Foundation     Swift Foundation

“We need to fundamentally rethink our economic system. That’s why our partnership with BALLE to identify, connect, nourish, and illuminate today’s top local economy leaders is a key part of our strategy.”
—Jennifer Buffett, NoVo Foundation, Fellowship funding partner