The Charlotte Area Regional Food Council gathering began with sharing good food and good company, a regular priority for Cabarrus County Farm and Food Council meetings. They co-hosted this regional event with Community Food Strategies (CFS) and the Local Food Council of North Carolina (LFCNC) as a way to nurture existing relationships and foster new partnerships amongst organizations and citizens working to transform the food system in the region. On a lovely March afternoon, more than 50 attendees started this meeting sharing conversation and dining on locally sourced mixed greens, fresh bread, and roasted butternut squash pasta prepared by local caterer and local foods activist, Gina Guthrie of Bocca Felice. They came here to talk about food and farming and to start a regional conversation about how to best support the local food economy and everyone having access to healthy, local foods. Whether you grow it, distribute it, sell it, cook it, or just eat it – we all play a role in shaping our local food system.
Attendees mostly came from the Charlotte area, although attendee came from coastal Dare County. They represented many sectors including farms (13%), non-profits (11%), business (8%), local government (7%), public health (7%), economic development (7%), community gardens (7%), food security (5%), schools (5%), conservation (5%), and others.
Cabarrus County Farm and Food Council (CCFFC) is one of several local food councils or networks active in this broad multi-county region around the urban hub of Charlotte. Several representatives in neighboring South Carolina from the Catawba Farm and Food Coalition also joined this event and shared their experiences as a multi-county network.
County Commissioner, Elizabeth Poole welcomed the audience, praising the CCFFC for its many successes in recent years and all of the attendees for their interest and work in local foods. She acknowledged the mutual benefits that the local government and CCFFC have attained by maintaining a strong partnership.
After enjoying the meal, the group gathered to hear six “5-minute speed talks” from various local councils to better understand their structure and their work. These quick presentations shared current priorities and projects and served as fodder for later conversations and connections. Here are some highlights below:
Catawba Farm and Food Coalition
This group serves the Catawba Indian Nation and Chester, Lancaster, York, Union and Fairfield Counties in South Carolina. They are spearheading efforts to establish a food hub in York County with the SC Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. They are also commenting on multiple draft comprehensive plans that are currently underway in their five-county region.
Cabarrus County Farm and Food Council
Originally formed in 2010, CCFFC is restructuring the organization to streamline their coordination and create new engagement opportunities for community members. They recently facilitated a collaborative effort that led to the development of the Rotary Garden in Concord, a multi-use, public space serving as a new home to a downtown farmers market.
Upper PeeDee Farm and Food Council
This council serves the Stanly, Anson and Montgomery County region and holds community events to connect people working with local farms and food. They recently orchestrated zoning changes for dual-use agriculture, which allows grazing on solar farms in their region.
Bread Riot is an organization based out of Salisbury in Rowan County. They run a year-round meat buying club and a multi-farm, winter CSA service. They are a force in enlivening community awareness around local food by hosting multiple community gatherings, like their monthly Sustainability Book Club meeting and annual farm-to-table event, Riot In The Pasture.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council
This food council has focused its efforts on local food policy using a community assessment completed in 2010, which they are currently revisiting. They also are engaged in farm-to-school efforts and host FoodCorps members, an AmeriCorps pilot program that is operating in 14 communities in North Carolina and focused on youth food and garden initiatives.
Davidson County Local Food Network
A relatively new council, this group is spearheaded by two Thomasville residents with support from others in public health, local government, and farming. They are building their network, establishing credibility in the community, and working to increase awareness of the economic and community benefits of supporting the local food system.
Developing Regional Indicators
After these presentations, the groups gathered in three smaller groups to work through a Results Based Accountability (RBA) process to begin establishing a broader picture of regional priorities. The goal of this exercise was to use everyone’s experiences to gain a better understanding of the region’s assets and needs. Community Food Strategies has facilitated this process at other regional food council gatherings to initiate the development of regional priorities, so that the local communities and organizations can assess their resources and determine how to best contribute to common regional goals. The three working groups spent an hour separately going through this process of:
- Defining the experience of a shared result (a thriving, sustainable community-based food system in every county);
- Listing measurable indicators that would track a shift toward that result;
- Sharing what was already happening in their community; and
- Brainstorming what could make a greater impact on reaching the stated result.
*You can review all of the raw RBA data collected at this meeting.
The three groups separately rated their list of indicators to choose the top three indicators that would be most important to track a shift toward the shared result. The Community Food Strategies team reviewed the list and combined similar indicators to reach to following top indicators for the Charlotte Area region.
- Increase # of school, community, home gardens
- Increase in # of farmland acres in production
- Increase in farmers earning a livable wage
- Increase in local foods purchased by restaurants
- Decrease distance from residents to purchase local, healthy food
As part of this “group think” process as indicated above, each group also began brainstorming various partnerships, actions, or resources that would help advance this work even further. The lists of “what we could do more of to make greater impact” have been insightful about next steps and what synergies could occur between organizations. These lists, along with the summaries, are also being shared with the LFCNC, the state level council, to inform their own annual priorities which are meant to serve the regions. These meetings are serving as information channels to the LFCNC so their work will fulfill needs at the regional scale. One to five representatives from the LFCNC have been attending the regional gatherings as listening sessions and will be reporting back to the larger council about their findings.
“The LFCNC is co-hosting six regional gatherings to learn about the opportunities, innovative ideas, and barriers for this work. These listening sessions are critical for state representatives to understand each community’s realities and to prioritize our own work as a state council,” says Karen Stanley of the NC Division of Public Health and a LFCNC representative.
How We Could Make Greater Impact
- Increase consumer awareness of and engagement with local food options through events, social media, video, signage, cooking demonstrations, or other engaging educational and community events
- Use statistics and data on buying local to create economic development campaign around the value of purchasing local
- Provide more resources and funding to local foods development and staff
- Offer more educational and infrastructure opportunities for farmers to improve their businesses
- Foster communication and collaboration between local food community stakeholders within county and region
- Strengthen relationship between councils and planning departments
- Develop clear engagement and communication between LFCNC and local councils
- Create incentive for more farmers to work together and to be involved in food councils
- Advocate for favorable policies that support ag-friendly zoning
- Provide parents resources to access healthy foods, like SNAP, and education about local, healthy foods and nutrition
Potential Next Steps
At the close of the evening, we asked for impressions of the meeting or ‘a-ha’ moments. We heard that more regional events like this were needed. People acknowledged the breadth of expertise and passion in the room. Many felt re-energized to go home and continue their work with a fresh perspective and new ideas. Community Food Strategies wants to support you all in continuing this work and to help you build on the new connections and ideas launched here. Below we’ve listed some possibilities for next steps:
- Report back to your full council on this regional gathering. Lead a discussion to determine the council’s reactions to this work and the data collected. Some questions to consider with your council/network:
- Do the experiences and indicators resonate in your local community?
- What are the metrics for these indicators in your county?
- What is the council doing to shift these indicators?
- Is there interest in participating on future regional gatherings, and at what frequency?
- Send this Summary Report to your local government officials, county commissioners, and city council members. Suggest that you meet with them to share or present your work.
- Request support from Community Food Strategies to refine regional indicators, conduct strategic planning, explore greater ways to have collective impact. Send an inquiry or submit an application for support through our website: http://www.communityfoodstrategies.com.
- Invite neighboring councils to join your meetings to continue partnership and collaboration development across the region.
- Stay tuned for future networking opportunities via conference call or in-person at www.facebook.com/communityfoodstrategies or www.communityfoodstrategies.com.
Thanks to everyone who planned and attended the Charlotte Area Regional Food Council Gathering on March 10, 2016. We appreciate all of your efforts and time in creating a more resilient food system that is fair and accessible to all of us. We at Community Food Strategies look forward to staying in touch and supporting your growing community.
- Charlotte Area Councils Contact List
- Statewide NC food council network
- Summary Report (pdf) to share with local government officials
- 5-minute Speed Talk presentations
- A Community and Local Government Guide to Developing Local Food Systems in North Carolina, a publication by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems