“The benefit for me for participating in the Warren County Local Foods Promotion Council is to have a voice, and seeing your vision come through” says Juel Duke, master gardener and long-term resident of Norlina in Warren County. “My vision is that Warren County becomes the hub that people want to come to. This is the destination vacation if you want to go and find out about local foods and enjoy local dining.”
Duke has been working as a Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and in her own garden for several years. She also manages Warren County Visitors Bureau social media. She’s been involved in the Warren County Local Foods Promotion Council (LFPC) for the last year, and would love to see more community involvement.
The LFPC was established in 2014 with support from the County Commissioners to help bring more Warren County food to the plates of Warren County residents. Some LFPC members have been involved since the beginning, like Reverend Bill Kearney, with UNC Chapel Hill Health Promotion and Disease Prevention program, and Paul McKenzie, Warren and Vance County Cooperative Extension Area Agriculture agent. Many partners and individuals have been supportive from the beginning. Like many rural counties, the community members’ time and resources are limited, and often you’ll see the same people volunteering and attending the same meetings. The LFPC now has a consistent core membership of about eight members that all have a deep affection for and connection to Warren County. This year they hosted community forums to increase community input and hopefully more members and partners to carry forward this work.
This promotional video features several food council members, their farm to fork vision for Warren County and why they are involved in the food council.
In 2017, the LFPC worked consistently to establish priorities, engage more partners, and raise awareness of council at festivals and events. They received a Community Food Strategies micro-grant to build awareness of the council and foster community engagement through promotional materials and community forums. The purpose of these community forums was to show how Warren County citizens could get involved with the LFPC, to highlight local food and farm leaders, and to collect ideas from the public about what kind of local food system they would like to see in Warren County.
They framed the two community forums as Local Food Celebrations, supporting one of their council priorities is to increase knowledge and pride in Warren County farming and food. At each forum, participants first shared a meal together highlighting local chefs, learned from a panel of local food leaders, and then engaged in small group discussions.
A panel of four local food leaders participated in each forum, and included:
- John Alston, beekeeper
- Lisa Bender, Bender Farms
- Gabe Cummings, Working Landscapes
- Daniel Harris, School Nutrition Director
- Shaun Keesee, farmer
- Joy Taranto, farmer
- Stacy Woodhouse, Economic Development Commission
Small group discussion topics:
- Barriers to eating and producing local foods
- Community assets
- Opportunities for improving healthy food access and economic development
Participants responses to an evaluation question about what they liked most about the events included:
- Information received on various food initiatives in the county. I received information that I was not aware of going on in the county.
- Exposure to different peoples experience and ideas
- Meeting farmers
- Brainstorming solutions with the panel
As the above responses indicate, community members enjoy being involved and being a part of the solution. Local food councils help facilitate those connections, build relationships, learn, and have a voice in community development. One farmer even learned that a particular type of non-GMO chicken feed that she was traveling over an hour away to purchase was being sold in a local store just down the road. This is the power of connecting and getting to know each other within your community.
The LFPC used what they learned from these forums to highlight actions and projects they should take on in the upcoming year. More than 75 people attend these forums, including County Commissioners, farmers, restaurant owners, business leaders, and interested community members.
The LFPC built new connections between these community members and shared their vision for promoting local foods and building the local food economy, which is in alignment with the Warren County Economic Development Commission. Local foods as an economic driver is more of a focus than it has ever been for the Economic Development Commission. Warren County’s 20,000 residents spend more than $30 million a year on food. Even a small percent of this food budget going towards local producers would be a huge opportunity.
With these forums, the LFPC has gained more confidence in hosting forums and has realized their value in creating space for these community conversations. They are now planning a Food Access Forum on October 30th, in wake of the closing of one of their largest full-service grocery stores in the county. With this forum they are seeking innovative solutions from the community and partners to address food access and improve markets.
As McKenzie says in the above video “I think the value of participating is the power of collaboration and networking. We have the power of synergy that we can accomplish more together.”