A Regional Gathering of Food Councils in Western North Carolina
On a beautiful fall day in the mountains of Western North Carolina, food council members and partner organizations from across the region converged to talk food policy. The McDowell County Local Food Advisory Council co-hosted the event at the McDowell Community College in Marion, NC with Community Food Strategies team members. The event offered councils in the western part of the state an opportunity to network, share their successes, discuss goals of the greater food council network, learn best practices for collecting and sharing data, and enjoy an incredible local lunch.
Nearly 50 people attended, representing eight councils or counties, including:
- Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council,
- Catawba County,
- Cleveland County Food Council,
- Polk County,
- Rutherford County Food Council,
- Watauga Food Council,
- Toe River Food Network, and
- McDowell County Local Foods Advisory Council.
Participants represented a range of sectors, including public health, local government, cooperative extension, faith communities, and nonprofits focused on food access, community gardens, farms, economic development, and more.
Networking and Accomplishments
Participants shared that the greatest highlights of the day were the numerous opportunities for them to network. We kicked off the day by inviting each council or organization to introduce themselves and share about their accomplishments over the past year. This gave everyone a chance to celebrate the many successes across the region, and generated an energy that carried us throughout the day.
Accomplishments included actions that helped councils build internal capacity, such as obtaining 501c3 status, drafting a charter, gaining official county government recognition, and restructuring internally for greater engagement and collaboration. Three councils also began conducting assessments of the state of their county’s current food system. Lastly, councils hosted a number of forums, summits, fundraising dinners, and launched new programs to serve their communities. All of these accomplishments and more can be seen in full in this document below.
In the afternoon, participants organized into groups to dive deeper into a few topics that peaked their interest from these council updates.
Shared Goals of the Network
Before lunch, we facilitated participants through a process of building a shared understanding of what a thriving, sustainable, and equitable food system would look like and what our shared networks goals are. In groups, councils crafted five statements that described their vision for this network, and shared them back to the full group. This vision included a food system in which:
- agricultural jobs are financially viable,
- consumers are educated about the food system,
- all people have equitable access to food,
- there is diverse leadership,
- supportive policies and infrastructure, and
- organizations in the community are fully bought in and connected to each other.
Everyone looks forward to lunch at food-related events, but the spread at this gathering was truly astonishing and the story behind it heartwarming. Normally, Bernice Toney depends on a US FOODS truck for her supplies, but when she heard the participants would all be local food advocates, she made it her personal mission to source as much local product as she could. She visited farmers markets in each of the counties represented at the event, and she spent time perfecting new recipes to accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions. She shared how much better the fresh products looked and tasted, and how many compliments she received on her test batches. The result was a colorful, and incredibly delicious spread, including soups, sandwiches, salads, quiches, desserts and more. Bernice runs Campus Cafe and campus catering for McDowell Technical Community College.
Collecting and Sharing Data – Community Food Snapshot
One goal of this event was to share information with councils in the form of a mini-workshop. Before the event, councils provided input on what they would like to learn about, and the result was a lecturette on collecting and sharing data about the food system. The presentation was structured around a spreadsheet and infographic template Community Food Strategies crafted to organize food system data around a Whole Measures framework. When asked what next steps they’d like their councils or organizations take using what they learned at the Gathering, over half shared their enthusiasm to use and adapt the Community Food Snapshot templates for their own counties.