Ten low-hanging fruit actions for food councils

Balancing process and action is a crucial skill for getting and keeping community at the table.

Part of the start up of a food council is engaging a broad base of your community and keeping your group excited about working together to build a stronger community food system. As most of us know from experience, one thing that can create a leaky bucket of folks not staying engaged is too much focus on ‘process.’ As our Food Council Development toolkit underscores, working on the process of how this group will work together is crucial, and, taking action early is also a must.

We recommend that you start early with low-hanging fruit actions that allow you to regularly engage the community in building knowledge, relationships, and awareness of the food council. Here are some examples of actions other councils have taken, most of which take minimal time and resources. These types of activities allow the developing council to stay engaged and active in community while also working on developing the structure and systems of a council (the process piece).

Host brown bag lunch and learns

Pitt County Farm & Food Council hosted regular Brown Bag Lunch Seminars, where they invited the community to join them in a conversation about food, health, and farming in their community.  They invited local leaders and experts to talk with attendees about community gardens, migrant farm workers, food pantries, local food businesses, and more.

Organize social events

Several councils have organized informal events that encourage people to get to know each and talk about food and farms. The Durham Farm & Food Network partnered with an existing networking event, a local brewery, and a Duke University student group to host a large evening networking event.  The Forsyth Community Food Consortium has hosted  monthly Local Food Meetups.  The Midlands Food Alliance in South Carolina has organized potlucks on local farms to showcase local farmers, get people out on the land, and encourage conversation.

Host a documentary screening and discussion

Brunswick County Food Council hosted documentary film screenings  with panel discussions every other month. They viewed films such as Hungry for Change and Greenhorns.

Organize a panel discussion

Charlotte Mecklenberg Food Policy Council hosted “A Fresh Look at School Food” panel discussion in partnership with the Mecklenberg County Health Department.  They partnered with several other community organizations for this event to create an ongoing dialogue about the importance of healthy food in schools. See Putting Local on the Menu in School Cafeterias’ in this story for more information.

Create a food system inventory

Some councils have created a food system inventory, a qualitative list of food-related organizations and businesses in the community, to help identify potential partners and current work already being done.  This inventory can often be a preliminary tool to creating Baseline Community Food Assessment. Here’s a Food Systems Inventory template from Rural Support Partners.

Partner with experts to create a Baseline Community Food System Assessment

A food council or task force can partner with a community college, university, or Council of Government to create a Food System Assessment for their community to gather existing data and analyze opportunities for improvement.  Using capable student interns are a best practice for building the capacity of the food council to get these assessments completed.

Engage with regional or national campaigns by tabling or promoting other events

Gaston County Food Council task force set up a booth and activities at their farmers market for National Farmers Market Awareness week and ask community members “What do you love about the farmers market?”.  This fun activity increased awareness of their new food council and connected several potential partners and local government officials.  

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Gaston County’s newly emerging food council set up a booth at the Farmers Market during National Farmers Market Week.  This was a great way to get feedback from the community and start building awareness of the new food council.

Consider working along with some of the following campaigns:

  1. March – National Farmworker Awareness Week, National Ag Day
  2. April – Earth Day
  3. August – National Farmers Market Week
    1. Gaston National Farmers Market Week story
  4. October – National Farm to School month, National Childhood Obesity Month, National Seafood Month, or Food Day

Create a list of your local decision makers

Use Community Food Strategies Strategic Advocacy Toolkit (Strategic Networking County Database) to create a list of local decision makers with their title, name and contact information.  Councils can use this information in their communications contacts, start to establish relationships with their decision makers, and create a timeline of when comprehensive plans are up for review.

Attend farm or food businesses tours together

Councils can promote local farm tours and organize carpools to attend farm tours together. Find local farm tours at Carolina Farm Stewardship farm tours, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture farm tours, or Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project farm tours.  Councils can also organize tours of their local food processing facilities, food banks, or community gardens.

Volunteer at community events

Councils can encourage their members to learn more about their community’s food, health and farming by volunteering at food pantries, community gardens, senior centers, farmers markets, or other work days.

Each food council decided to take on certain activities based on the relationships that already existed and where there was energy for action.  Start with who you know and use some of these actions to develop relationships with other organizations and encourage more involvement.

For more information on any of these ideas, please contact communityfoodstrategies@gmail.com.

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