On an unusually hot evening in late September, members and partners of eight food councils gathered at the Citizen’s Resource Center in Dallas, North Carolina for the 2018 Charlotte Regional Food Council Gathering. Centralina Council of Government and the Gaston Food Policy Council worked in partnership with Community Food Strategies to host the event, which brought together six food councils from the greater Charlotte region and two from the Upstate of South Carolina. Twenty eight food council members and their partners, as well as six Community Food Strategies members, attended the event.
David Fogarty, Gaston County Cooperative Extension Service Director and a member of the Gaston Food Policy Council, opened up the evening with a welcome to the Dallas community and provided some background on the history of agriculture in Gaston County. The evening started with open networking and delicious food made from locally-sourced ingredients provided by Harvest Moon Grille.
The event continued with a presentation from Abbey Piner from Community Food Strategies on a new network mapping development project currently underway to help food councils across the state to connect around issues and projects where they share similar interests. This map is currently in the development stage and will be improved with the feedback collected from the network of councils. One of the goals of the Gathering was to bring together regional partners to make new connections and build stronger relationships. Forty four percent of participant survey respondents noted making four new connections over the course of the evening.
Food Council Updates
Each food council shared updates on their recent work. The amount of collaborative programmatic work, organizational development, assessment, community engagement, and advocacy that these councils have accomplished with their partners since last coming together in December 2017 at the Statewide Gathering was impressive. Please read the accompanying summary that highlights the participating food councils’ recent projects and actions.
Using Stories To Communicate Your Cause
As part of planning for this event, the councils in the region asked for a mini-workshop to support them in crafting their messaging and sharing the story of their work. During a ‘Using Stories To Communicate Your Cause’ presentation, Gini Knight from the Community Food Strategies team shared the power of using stories and tools to develop those stories. We reviewed tips on framing food and farm policies from Spitfire Strategies Good Food Message Guide. Participants spent time drafting and practicing their story and talking points to effectively share their work in a compelling way. Surveys from attendees showed that seven of the nine respondents to the question “What did you enjoy most about the event?” included the story telling workshop in their response.
Another conversation held during the Gathering was based on a discussion around shared language that began at the 2016 Charlotte Regional Gathering . At that event, food councils in the region began the work of describing a thriving, sustainable food system. At the 2018 Regional Gathering, councils were asked a more pointed question: what would you add or change to the description to accurately describe an equitable food system? Attendees took individual time and then worked in small groups to tackle this question, and then they shared their ideas back to the full group.
Circle of Influence
The event also featured information on the concept of the Organizing Mind, a principle grounded in the wisdom of experienced and effective community organizers. To use organizing mind means that one begins by looking around to see who is with them, who shares their desires, their vision, their values and their goals. Using organizing mind can help individuals and groups to identify their Circles of Influence and their Circles of Control, and can help food councils focus on who and what is within their reach, so that they can build a larger group of people with common food system values and goals. Food councils worked together to articulate their own Circles of Influence and to identify who to develop relationships with to make the food system changes they want to see.
Regional and Statewide Collaboration
The night wrapped up with information from California and Colorado, and how food council networks in those states are organizing collectively around issues and advocacy at the state level. Attendees heard about recent statewide collaborations between councils in North Carolina over the previous year, such as the SNAP sign-on letter that nine councils worked together to make a success. A few of the attending councils acknowledged they were in seed and start-up stages of development, and were unclear if and how their food councils might engage in statewide issues and advocacy. Respondents to our survey also shared that they came away from the gathering with concrete next steps. Some common themes were:
- Developing stories, talking points, and videos and making them readily available for all food council members.
- Using the tools provided at the event to provide more focus for their food council.
- Engaging with representatives from other local groups to form a food council.
- Developing food council leadership and membership to be more representative of the community they serve.
Community Food Strategies, Centralina COG and the Gaston County Food Council greatly appreciated the participation of the food councils. The Charlotte region continues to be a leader in food council organizational development, assessment, community engagement, and policy, and it is exciting to see all of the food systems work also happening over the border in South Carolina. It is beneficial having several councils across the broader region in different stages of food council development. This allows the groups and their members to learn from each other and collaborate when opportunities arise.
We look forward to hosting the next Charlotte Regional phone call on Dec 4th from 12 – 1pm. If you would like to be added to the email list for this quarterly call, please become of member of this Google Group to add your name and email contact.