By Angie Lavezzo, CFSA Communications Coordinator | Friday, June 10, 2022
Volunteers pause for a picture in Cabarrus County. Photo courtesy of Cabarrus County Farm & Food Council.

People choose to volunteer their time for a variety of reasons. For some, it offers the chance to serve their community or make a difference in the lives of others. For others, it can mean an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Regardless of the motivation, what unites all volunteers is that they find it challenging, rewarding, and a ready-made opportunity to connect with others.

Don’t miss: 5 Reasons You Should Support and Get Involved with Your Local Food Council

What about you? You have a passion for local, nutritious, and sustainable food systems. Food councils are a wonderful place to give your time and energy. The range of work that food councils handle is guaranteed to offer a match for your skills and abilities.

Want to learn a bit more about the work of food councils first? Check out Community Food Strategies. Not only is CFSA a proud partner of Community Food Strategies—a hub for local food councils and individuals across North Carolina who want to grow their voices through food—they also have many resources and events if you’re looking to dig deeper.

Ready to dive right in? We’ve compiled a list of active food councils in the Carolinas that would love to utilize your skills to advance the mission of just and equitable food systems. Find your region below, and reach out!

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How the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council is Strengthening Their Community and Working Towards Healthy, Affordable & Sustainable Food For All

by Jared Cates, CFSA’s Community Mobilizer

Raising funds for farmers at a Farm Hands event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

Raising funds for farmers at a Char-Meck Food Policy Council Farm Hands event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

Farming is a strong economic driver across the Charlotte metro region. Farmers have access to traditional wholesale markets as well as many direct to consumer opportunities through farmers markets and CSA’s. Locally sourced food can be also be found on the menus at many medium and high priced restaurants. But, the recent findings of a large-scale planning effort, CONNECT Our Future, drew attention to big challenges with inequity in the regional food system, low wages for food system workers, and large pockets of food insecurity. There is increasing demand for locally grown food, but farmland continues to be sold off and transformed into subdivisions. There is plenty of local produce grown in the region; however little of it is making its way into local school cafeterias. These are the types of issues that the Char-Meck FPC has been tackling. And they’ve been doing it in a variety of ways.

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ONE OF OUR 2015 INSPIRING MEMBER STORIES

By Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinator

Grace and Cary Kanoy, of Davidson County, NC, believe putting down deep roots in a place and being an active part of a community are important. They are always being asked, “Why do we need a food network?” and “Why is food so important to you?”

Kanoys-EOY-2015 - GIVE“For a thriving community to exist,” Grace explains, “residents need to be healthy. Health comes from clean air, clean water, healthy food, physical activity, and a loving, supportive community. A healthy community that feeds itself is an independent and stable community. This is the kind of place we want to raise our family in.”

From a business standpoint, when residents, neighbors, and family members are healthy, it means healthy workers and better productivity. A healthy workforce attracts businesses and companies. Healthy students mean better attendance, better school performance.

CFSA is working with Grace and Cary to establish the Davidson County Local Food Network. CFSA staff provides resources, support and technical assistance through our partnership with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ Community Food Strategies initiative. Food councils are being formed at county, regional and state levels to create intentional networks around food system issues and to provide members with the skills and knowledge to identify local solutions to food systems challenges.

A healthy community that feeds itself is an independent and stable community. This is the kind of place we want to raise our family in.

Grace and Cary are filmmakers and photographers by day and concentrate their professional work as well as their community service on issues of social justice. “We have particularly valued CFSA’s efforts to affect and influence farm and food policy both in our state and on a federal level,” says Grace. “Through our relationship with CFSA and learning about other members’ efforts, we realize how much federal and state policy affects our local economy, community and even our family’s health.”

In their volunteer work helping establish the Davidson County Local Food Network, the Kanoys have learned much to share with other groups forming across the Carolinas: the greater impact that can be made working together as a community, taking time to weave a diverse network of community leaders committed to a shared purpose, building a sense of community responsibility and accountability, and sharing actual stories, both successes and failures. The Kanoys credit the leadership, experience and involvement of CFSA staff in helping establish credibility and facilitating positive change in their county.

“CFSA is our go-to resource for agriculture policy and sustainable ag resources for us in our own homestead and for our community network,” says Grace. “CFSA has had an enormous influence on our lives, introducing us to a wealth of experts, leaders and role models – from participating in farm tours, the Sustainable Ag Conference, learning about food councils and food policy, and becoming part of a larger community who are trying to live honest lives and make the world a better place.”

Read more about CFSA food council support and development at: www.carolinafarmstewards.org/food-councils/

by Christy Shi Day

Editor’s Note: On April 17 a webinar was held by UNC School of Government, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the NC Community Transformation Grant on food councils. Community and regional food councils (sometimes called food policy councils) are rapidly emerging as important mechanisms to stimulate the kind of dialogue and concerted action necessary to improve local food systems.  In the last five years, food council activity in NC has grown to include more than 24 NC counties participating in or developing community-based food councils or networks. CFSA staff are part of the team leading food council support and development efforts across the state.

This post is the first in a series over the next several months that will be cross-posted to the Sweet Potato, the UNC School of Government Community and Economic Development Blog, the Community Food Strategies website, and various CTG blogs around the state. Each post answers specific questions asked by webinar participants.

 

What is the relationship between a food council and a food hub? 

Food hubs have gained a lot of attention in recent years. Responding to this interest, the Wallace Center hosted the National Good Food Network (NGFN) Food Hub Collaboration Conference this March, drawing local food advocates from around the state and region.  Food hubs come in many shapes and sizes and have not been free from debate. In his article titled, “At What Cost? Food Hubs, Local Food and Walmart“, Charlie Jackson noted that “Government and nonprofits need to be cautious about getting into the business of running businesses where success is measured in pounds. They need to make sure their investments are not just moving product, but moving people.”  As Jackson’s article articulates, there is certainly debate around when food hubs are most useful and what they ultimately achieve.

Before embarking on a food hub effort, a feasibility study should be conducted to determine if this business model will be successful in a given community and address the underlying issues in the food system. Communities that are targeting a specific market are wise to look into whether other regions are also looking into a food hub to serve the same market.  For example, there are many communities targeting the Charlotte region – each with a food hub concept in mind.  Understanding how each effort will affect the market is an important part of ensuring success for a given food hub.

 

Community Food Strategies Map of NC Food Councils

Community Food Strategies Map of NC Food Councils.  Courtesy of communityfoodstrategies.com

So how do food councils fit into all of this?  There are three main things to consider.

The FOCUS of your council 

Many local food councils have identified a mission that is broad and inclusive, in order to handle the changing needs of a food system and engage diverse stakeholders.  Developing a food hub may be very popular from a vibrant farms perspective, but may not engage those concerned with reducing obesity or using public land for community gardens?  A council that sets its aim too narrow, around a specific project, may confront conflict as other important food-related issues arise that a community wants to address.

But if the focus is that broad, how does a council ever get anything accomplished?

The FUNCTION of your council

This is perhaps the most critical decision for a council – and one that should revisited every few years through a strategic planning process. If a council where to take on every possible project in a community, an endless stream of funding and community support would be necessary. Groups that already have established projects may see the council as competitive and disengage in the process, weakening the system as a whole.

For this reason, most councils aim to fill in gaps in the food system and assume roles not currently occupied by other groups.  The trend within emerging councils in North Carolina is to focus attention on sharing information, network development, and driving a policy agenda.  Mature councils may begin taking the lead on specific projects, but only once they have built the organizational capacity and credibility within the community to do so.

Defining both focus and function, and keeping them front of mind, are critical for council success. Generally speaking, the focus needs to be broad, while the functions need to be narrow.

Geographic SCOPE

Food councils are place-dependent. Community context should determine a council’s geographic scope. There are a few things to consider when making this decision.

1) Counties are established as units of the state.  Data tracked by agencies tends to be available at the county level, not at municipal levels.

2) County level staff, in departments such as Cooperative Extension, Soil & Water Conservation, Public Health, and the Department of Social Services are important voices to include in council work.

3) There are many different ways in which regions are defined, each having an effect on food. The NC Regional Council of Governments (COG) regions differ from health department regions which differ from cooperative extension regions.  A council which forms as a regional council may limit its ability to fully participate in initiatives that are defined by these external boundaries.

4)  Choosing a county level scope does not remove the possibility of strong regional partnerships. In fact, councils with a similar structure and process can provide an opportunity for strong cross-county collaboration.

5) As a general rule, people give energy when they believe it is to their benefit.  If people do not identify with the chosen region, if may be difficult to get participation across county lines.

 

There are three councils in NC that have multi-county food councils: Upper PeeDee Farm and Food Council, Western North Carolina (WNC) Food Policy Council and Feast Down East.

The Upper PeeDee Council includes three counties and each county holds five seats. Recently, two of the three counties fell within a COG funded project, leaving a third of the council out of the picture.  The Upper PeeDee Council rotates meeting locations by county and has a leadership team of one person from each county.

The WNC Council exists in an area of low population and includes seven counties who have a tradition of working together. They have shared staff across the multiple counties and rely heavily on volunteer staff.

Feast Down East originally developed as a regional council. They are now reinvesting in creating county level councils to engage each community and build social capital – something that is difficult to do regionally.

For questions or comments about this blog or food councils in general, please contact Jared Cates, CFSA Community Mobilizer, at jared@

by CFSA | Jul. 31, 2014 – 

A few months ago, a webinar was held by UNC School of Government, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and the NC Community Transformation Grant on food councils. Community and regional food councils (sometimes called food policy councils) are rapidly emerging as important mechanisms to stimulate the kind of dialogue and concerted action necessary to improve local food systems. In the last five years, food council activity in NC has grown to include more than 24 counties participating in or developing community-based food councils or networks. 

CFSA community mobilizer Jared Cates is part of the Community Food Strategies team, a CEFS initiative, that leads food council support and development efforts across the state. Below, we pick Jared’s brain on food council development.

Are there examples of commercial grocers being involved in food councils?

Yes, commercial grocers have a role to play in food councils. It is important that food councils interact and collaborate with all food system stakeholders, and commercial grocers are an integral part of the community food system. Having representation from grocers on a council will help expose the challenges that grocery stores typically run into when trying to source local products. Creating a space where local food producers, community members, local government and grocers can come together to discuss these challenges leads to increased collaboration, creation of supportive policies, and increased opportunities to bring locally produced foods into commercial groceries. Lowes Foods has been involved in some of the first food council meetings in Brunswick County, NC and recently in Cleveland County, NC. Company Shops Market in Burlington has been active in Alamance County, NC food council discussions.

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by Marianna Spence, CFSA Membership Coordinator | Nov. 15, 2016 – 

We all can agree that food, health, and agriculture have a huge impact on the quality of life in our local communities. But how can local leaders and community members address issues and work together to improve local policy, food access, farming and economic development, and community health?

“I’ve been working in this county for a long time, and starting our food council has been the most thoughtful, inclusive process I’ve ever been a part of,” said Alice Keene, Pitt County Recreation Projects Coordinator, who has been with the City of Greenville and Pitt County, North Carolina, for 43 years.

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