Building Capacity in the Triangle

Story-telling practice, regional visioning, economic development tools, and a brief history of agriculture in Orange County from the County Commissioner were all part of the Triangle Regional Food Network Gathering attended by nearly 50 people from seven counties.

View the short two-page summary report here or read more details about the event below.


This regional gathering is one of six regional events that were coordinated in response to positive feedback from a statewide Food Issues Forum for food councils in 2014. More than 150 people attended that 2014 statewide gathering and shared that networking and learning together in this face-to-face context was beneficial, energizing, and mobilizing. Upon hearing this, Community Food Strategies and the Local Food Council of North Carolina (LFCNC) decided to partner with other organizations across the state to host this series of regional gatherings at a smaller scale to again facilitate continued networking and peer-to-peer learning. Review the summaries of other regional gatherings.  

The University of North Carolina’s (UNC) School of Government, serving as a community resource for citizens and public officials, was a great partner to co-host this event with Community Food Strategies and the LFCNC.  Rick Morse of UNC School of Government and Orange County Commissioner, Barry Jacobs, welcomed all of the attendees from the event and set the context of Orange County agricultural history from tobacco and textiles to more urban areas and food production.   

The meeting began with participants mingling over delicious, healthy food provided by Vimilia’s Curryblossom Cafe, a great local food advocate. People representing non-profits (30%), farms & business (26%), higher education (13%), public health (11%), conservation (8%), economic development (8%) and faith communities (4%) came together to build relationships across various counties and sectors in efforts to create a thriving food system benefiting farmers, consumers, the economy, and the land.

County Commissioner Barry Jacobs is a member of the newly created Orange County Food Council and noted that “Local food councils can be a key grassroots resource to bring folks together, raise awareness, and combine disparate efforts to the greatest possible effect. The Orange County Food Council adds a welcome element to our broad range of efforts to protect, promote and honor our local agricultural heritage.”

Regional Visioning Exercise

After setting the stage for the evening, small groups worked through a regional visioning exercise based on the Results Based Accountability (RBA) process. This exercise relies on everyone’s experiences to gain a better understanding of the region’s assets and needs and can help local communities and organizations assess their resources and determine how to best contribute to common regional goals. The groups separately went through this process of:

  1. Defining the experience of a shared result or goal (a thriving, sustainable community-based food system in every county);
  2. Listing measurable indicators that would track a shift toward that result;
  3. Sharing what was already happening in their community; and
  4. Brainstorming what could make a greater impact in reaching the stated result.

*You can review all of the raw RBA data collected at this meeting.  

A portion of one group's indicators list.

A portion of one group’s indicators list.

The groups ranked their list of indicators to choose the three to five most important indicators to track a shift toward the shared result. The Community Food Strategies team reviewed the list and combined similar indicators to reach the following top indicators for the Triangle area.

  1. Distance to healthy food outlets
  2. % of the population that is food secure
  3. Average income of local farmers
  4. % of food budget spent on local products
  5. Water quality indicators
  6. $ institutions spend on local food
  7. Happiness index
  8. Pounds of food waste
  9. # of species diversity adjacent to cropland
  10. # of schools teaching agriculture curriculum

Each group discussed what is currently working in their communities and began brainstorming various partnerships, actions, or resources that would make an even greater impact.  The information collected in this exercise sparked momentum and new synergies that could occur between organizations.  These strategies, along with the event summaries, are being shared with the LFCNC to inform their own efforts.  

LFCNC representative, Rochelle Sparko, shared this about event, “Participants are thinking about the food system, recognizing all the moving parts that are inherently connected to others. These council members have the insight and collective power to change their communities for the better through this systems approach. I look forward to seeing how LFCNC can support their efforts.”


Profiles of all NC Counties eventually will be posted on the NC Growing Together website.

County Local Food & Farm Profiles

Laura Lauffer, Local Food & Farm Program Coordinator at NC Agriculture & Technical State University (NC A&T), described newly released County Local Farm and Food Profiles which show the percent change from 2007 to 2012 USDA Agriculture Census data within each county.  Piedmont Grown, NC A&T, and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council all collaborated on this project to provide a tool for talking with economic developers and community decision makers about the impact and trends of local food and farms.  

These graphics are one in a set of tools being developed as data to help shape conversations about opportunities to drive the local food economy.  If a county is showing a positive trend in agritourism, how can farms serve as educational or economic resources?  If your county’s farmers’ market sales are declining and a neighboring county’s market sales are increasing, what could you learn from them to improve those numbers?  

Comparing these trends is one way to inspire cross-county and sector collaboration. Some counties may not have data, and food councils could encourage better reporting of agriculture census data for a more accurate picture of agriculture trends.  

Storytelling – Communicating your Cause

In response to conversations with food council members around the Triangle, Community Food Strategies crafted a story-telling workshop to support local food advocates in articulating their work to funders, government officials, potential partners, and volunteers. Food council members of several Triangle area food councils expressed the challenge they face in explaining what a food council is, what we do, and what the value or impact of a food council can be. The workshop was largely based on a recent presentation by Heather Yadrow at Third Space Studio.  We gave tips on structure and techniques for creating a compelling story and then had participants develop and practice telling a short 2-minute story in pairs.

Michelle Morehouse of the Chatham Community Food Council shared this about the event, “It was great to reconnect with folks who attended the statewide gathering in Winston-Salem and to meet those who are new to the local food movement in the Triangle. The presentations are not only relevant to the work of the food council of which I’m a member but also in my daily job. I will definitely be refining my ‘story’.”

Next Steps

At the close of the evening, individual councils or counties discussed potential next steps for their councils and the larger region. We hope attendees will act on at least one of those next steps created (see some next steps below).  Community Food Strategies will continue to explore more opportunities for future gatherings and continue to develop resources that support capacity building at the local and regional levels.

Here are some potential next steps below:

  • Report back to your council/organization on this regional gathering. Some questions to consider with your council/network:
    • Do the regional indicators resonate in your local community?
    • What are the metrics for these indicators in your county?
    • What is the council/organization doing to shift these indicators?
    • How could you use the County Local Farm & Food Profiles?
  • Send the Summary Report to your local government officials, county commissioners, and city council members. Suggest a meeting to share your work.
  • Build relationships with your local media contacts.  Call the local newspaper and share the brief summary report or other information about your council/network.
  • Call on the Community Food Strategies team for support. We can help with strategic planning, refining priorities and strategies, troubleshooting council development, or offering a more in-depth story-telling workshop.
  • Invite neighboring councils to join your meetings to continue collaboration.
  • Connect with us on Facebook at to keep informed of future networking opportunities.


One Comment on “Building Capacity in the Triangle

  1. Pingback: Convening food councils regionally and statewide | Community Food Strategies

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