Piedmont Triad holds regional food council gathering

On July 10th, nearly 40 food council leaders and supporters gathered for a 2017 Piedmont Triad Region Food Councils meeting. This latest meeting is part of an ongoing effort that began in spring of 2016 to keep neighboring food councils connected, to share discoveries, and to explore regional collaborations.  Even the Federal Reserve is recognizing the value of regional food systems in promoting community development and economic growth with the release of their new book, Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities.

Since the 2016 meeting, the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC) has emerged as a consistent partner in regional food council work with Community Food Strategies. This second in-person gathering grew out of quarterly networking calls with food council leaders happening by region across the state.

Keeping Neighboring Food Councils Connected

The meeting began with some interactive polling of the audience and we learned that:

  • 100% of respondents agreed that a regional food council would be beneficial to the Piedmont Triad area.
  • 65% of respondents said their food councils already were collaborating with their neighboring food councils.

We heard current work highlights from most of the nine local food councils or networks in the region.  They vary in their organizational capacity, structure, and work objectives. We were inspired to hear about 100+ kids at a Youth Food Summit, collaboration with Elon University students, and discussions about what ‘local’ means at farm-to-fork dinners. Below is a list of nine food council networks in the region with brief updates:

Alamance Food Collaborative

The Alamance Food Collaborative released their Strategic Plan with five priority areas last year.  With these priorities in mind, they recently partnered with Elon University’s Social Justice and Poverty class, and significantly moved their work forward.  With support of the class, they created white papers, developed new relationships, and held meetings with key policy makers.

Caswell County Local Foods Council

This council started a second farmers market this season and a very successful ‘Soups On!’ event every second Wednesday. Soups On is a free monthly lunch in Yanceyville providing a healthy meal and an opportunity for fellowship.  Between 50 and 100 people regularly attend these monthly luncheons, and more connections are being made now than ever in support of local foods work.

Davidson County Local Food System Network

This network designed and funded two billboards in high traffic locations to promote the Thomasville and Lexington farmers markets. They also assisted in coordinating a successful farm-to-fork dinner featuring local food and local chef talent.  They led a discussion with attendees on what ‘local’ means. This event spurred new partnerships and will likely lead to more smaller scale farm-to-fork dinners and farm tours in 2018.  

Forsyth Community Food Consortium

This food council helped coordinate a Meet-Your-Farmer CSA sign up day this spring, has action teams supporting the 10% Campaign, and hosts monthly Food Meet-Ups to encourage relationship building and idea generation.  This council is also focused on refining their Board and leadership transition process.

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Carl Vierling, Executive Director of Greater High Point Food Alliance, shares highlights of this year’s work, including a recent Youth Food Summit.

Greater High Point Food Alliance

GHPFA hosted a Youth Food Summit this spring with over 100 youth attendees, with support from Cooperative Extension’s Food Corps, 4-H, and many other partners.  They recently held a grant writing workshop for area food pantry staff and hosted a series of listening sessions for seniors focused on their food needs. The GHPFA approach focuses on connecting authentically to the community and asking those impacted what they would do to improve their situation.

Guilford Food Council

This council is compiling a timeline of local food events since its formation in 2010.  They recognize that their food council’s role is evolving and have found value in documenting past efforts and supporting coordination of local food events.

Randolph County

The Randolph County’s 2016 Strategic Plan proposed the development of a local foods council as a marketing strategy for local farmers. The Randolph County Health Department was also discussing the benefits of a food council to address food insecurity.  The Health Department and Cooperative Extension staff are leading the effort to convene multiple sectors and to discuss the opportunities for cross-sector collaboration. They held a Food Council 101 meeting in February with approximately 20 community members.

Rockingham County

The Piedmont Local Foods Coalition, a non-profit organization housed at Cooperative Extension, has worked on several local food promotion initiatives. Due to loss of funding, they had been inactive for a few years. Recently a meeting was held with more than 25 attendees to help reinvigorate a food council in Rockingham County.

Winston Salem’s new Urban Food Policy Council

Winston Salem residents had until July 31st to submit applications to serve on the Urban Food Policy Council, a new advisory panel the City Council authorized earlier this year to initiate and promote actions that increase food access in Winston-Salem, particularly in the city’s urban core.

Exploring Regional Collaborations

Last fall, Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC) worked with UNC-Greensboro graduate students to complete Harvesting Regional Potential, a report on the benefits and challenges, for developing a regional food council or network. An active and effective network can be defined as organizations coming together to exchange resources and cultivate productive relationships toward addressing a complex problem far beyond the scope of any one isolated organization’s capacity. In this sense, network building is the work of food councils, and building active and effective networks on a regional level pulls together the resource sharing and collaboration necessary for securing a thriving community-based foodshed that improves the health and quality of life for all of its residents.

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The SE NC Regional Food Systems Assessment examined how the public health in five counties were impacted by their local food system.

We shared highlights of this report with regional leaders as well as key components of aspirational regional food system networks.For example, in 2015 the Southeastern NC Regional Health Collaborative, a five county regional partnership across Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, Onslow, and Pender counties completed the SENC Regional Food System Assessment to better understand how public health was impacted by the local food system. This comprehensive data analysis and recommendations provided a foundation for new partnerships and ideas to enhance local food markets, food security, and healthy eating.  

This summer, PTRC began planning for a Piedmont Triad Regional Food Assessment to compile and analyze data on the existing conditions and infrastructure of the Triad food system.  At this food council meeting, we invited all participants to give input on what to include in it and on how this assessment could benefit the Piedmont Triad region and each of the its 12 counties.  See a summary of those responses in our 2017 Gathering Summary.  PTRC also just announced the release of the updated NC Local Food Infrastructure and Supply Chain Map.

Community engagement and communication channels are key to a successful regional collaboration that benefits all partners. Understanding the opportunities and challenges in both rural and urban areas within the region will require broad community engagement.  The Midlands Food Alliance of South Carolina provides an example of building relationships with the community. They created a quarterly on-farm potluck series to engage conversation around the needs and assets of rural and urban entities.

Another example of regional collaboration, is WNC Healthy Impact, a 16-county partnership between hospitals, public health agencies, and key regional partners working on a community health improvement process.  Their structure and programs are designed to build capacity for locally led initiatives. They have steering committees, communication platforms, work groups, consultants, funding, and a full-time regional coordinator to pull it all together. Their structure and committed resources have allowed them to enhance their partnerships and improve efficiency and quality of their services.

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Regional calls and meetings keep us building relationships and learning from one another.

Next Steps

Community Food Strategies and PTRC will continue to convene regional calls for food councils and will support the development of a Piedmont Triad Regional Food Systems Assessment with local input and leadership.  The goal of a regional collaboration is to support local work.  Our next steps will involve creating an Advisory Council for the assessment using input received from attendees at this gathering.

Stay informed by emailing gini_knight@ncsu.edu to join the Triad Food Councils google group email list, or consider attending the Statewide Food Council Gathering on November 30 to December 1 at WinMock in Davie County.

Resources

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