Local Food Needs Local Politics

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This article was written for a pre-election day audience, following the Durham Food and Farm Network’s Candidates’ Forum. Charles Meeker has since lost his race.

Durham is the foodiest town in the south, yet nearly 1 in 5 of the county’s residents don’t know when their next meal will be. With the presidential election upon us, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds, but we need to hold our local elected officials accountable to ensure that food in Durham is accessible, healthy, and safe for all.

On October 26th, I volunteered with several other Duke students at a public forum hosted by the Durham Farm and Food Network (DFFN) for political candidates running for local and state positions. Nine candidates discussed their ideas and ongoing efforts relating to food. I was blown away by how well-versed these politicians were about food issues, and I was inspired by their passion for growing a better food community. Here are a few highlights from the evening:

1. Local chefs care about food justice

We heard from the people behind the event’s catering: Ricky Moore of the Saltbox Seafood Joint and Andrea Reusing of The Durham Hotel (who casually cooked alongside White House chef Sam Kass recently to benefit NC’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems). Moore summed up where we need to go with food access: “the more we support our local crabbers and fishermen, the more the cost drops.” Next, Reusing gave a rousing call to action to fix a food system that “relies on inequality to run.”

2. Candidates care, but we need to put in more resources

Excitingly, the candidates understand that we need to build on our existing efforts to protect the people who make our food, encourage the production of healthier foods, and make food accessible for those who need it most.

Ellen Reckhow (Democratic candidate seeking reelection to the Durham County Board of Commissioners) discussed how matching grants from our local government have helped finance possible community gardens around Durham, and the Durham Farmers’ Market pavilion that gives the market a beautiful permanent home. Community gardens are a great educational space, especially for teaching kids about making their own food and eating healthily. (As an aside, if you’ve never picked fresh herbs from the garden near the Durham Farmers’ Market, you’re missing out.)

To help increase food access, the Department of Public Health initiated a Double Bucks program, where recipients of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) can get $2 of produce when they spend $1 at farmers’ markets in Durham. Programs like this help make farmers markets available not only to middle and upper class shoppers, but also to the underprivileged people who suffer most from low food access.

Danielle Adams (Democratic candidate seeking reelection as Durham County Soil and Water Board Supervisor) described how the Durham Soil and Water Board has attempted to heal the racism in agriculture perpetuated by the US government by providing more generous cost-sharing for farmers of color and women farmers to support these groups who are underrepresented in agriculture

But more is needed. The candidates discussed their hope to create a dedicated county-level Food Commission that would provide technical assistance to the Durham Farm and Food Network and other community food organizations in their efforts to promote healthy food production, access, and education. This is exactly what we need – people who will connect the dots between the nonprofits, businesses, healthcare, and government actors who are working on food systems projects.

3. We must stop human rights abuses in the food system

Farmworkers and food service workers face some of the worst labor injustices in the country, yet labor issues in food are often ignored. These horror stories, a daily reality, are well-documented in a recent Oxfam report about how the chicken industry treats its workers in North Carolina – with some workers having to wear diapers in factory assembly lines. Seven of the ten lowest-paid occupations in the US are in the restaurant industry, and one-fourth of food service workers live in food insecure households. (If reading reports isn’t your thing, see this excellent John Oliver segment on contract farmers in the chicken industry.)

Additionally, North Carolina is one of a handful of states where “ag-gag” laws restrict the ability of workers, including agricultural workers, to document abuses they face on the job. These laws allow employers to sue employees for who gather such information, regardless of what the employee does with the information. This gives employers the dangerous ability to silence whistleblowers who might otherwise report abuses against people, animals, or the environment.

DFFN broached these labor issues by asking candidates whether they were committed to providing a living wage for workers in North Carolina, where the minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. Huge cheers erupted when we heard support for the Fight for $15 from Mike Woodard (Democratic candidate for NC Senate, District 22), Floyd McKissick (Democratic candidate for NC Senate, District 20), Danielle Adams, and Charles Meeker (Democrat candidate for NC Commissioner of Labor).

One of the most contentious races on Nov. 8 – that you should most definitely care about – will be between incumbent Republican friendly-face-in-the-elevator Cherie Berry and progressive Democratic challenger Charles Meeker. Meeker has promised to be tougher on businesses who mistreat their workers and to fight for a $15 minimum wage. This is especially important for farmworkers in North Carolina, where despite agriculture being the largest sector in our state’s economy, farmwork is among the lowest-paid and highest-risk jobs. Fighting for farmworker rights is also a step towards fighting the injustices committed against immigrants, since half of the 2 to 3 million farmworkers in the US are undocumented immigrants. Raising the minimum wage would also raise up the workers at Duke who provide our food. While the university has committed to a $13 minimum wage, the administration has not fully met the demand for a $15 minimum wage from Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity. If we elect officials who will make the Fight for $15 a centerpiece of their policymaking, this will put more pressure on Duke to provide a living wage for its employees.

4. Will Durham put its money where its mouth is?

Speaking of the $15 minimum wage, Wendy Jacobs (Democratic candidate seeking reelection to the Durham County Board of Commissioners) reported that the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to implement a $15 dollar minimum wage for all county jobs. Jacobs pointed out that HB2 unfortunately prohibits this type of policy from being extended to private sector jobs in the county.

Jacobs talked about how government can lead by example by buying local. Heidi Carter (Democratic candidate for the Durham County Board of Commissioners) suggested that we should set goals for how Durham County procures food, such as a commitment to 20 percent local. Such a commitment could drive schools, prisons, senior centers, and other government-funded agencies to essentially bulk-buy from sustainable and local farms and producers. A single person who says they’re going vegetarian isn’t going to dismantle factory farming, but imagine what would happen if for just one day at Duke, we didn’t spent any food points on meat.

There’s a precedent for this – the North Carolina 10% Campaign encourages businesses, schools, and individuals to spend at least 10% of their food dollars on local products. The Real Food Challenge is a recent manifestation of this idea, which calls upon colleges to commit to sustainable and humane sourcing for at least 20% of their food. UNC has committed to the challenge, while Duke has not.

5. Hungry for more?

We need to vote for government officials who understand that we need a food system that doesn’t directly contribute to the obesity epidemic, antibiotic resistance, climate change, and human and animal welfare abuses. To play a part in making sure politicians don’t forget, you can get involved with the Durham Farm and Food Network, our county’s Food Policy Council. DFFN supports policies that improve health, the economy, farmers and natural resources, and food justice and security. In addition to getting involved with DFFN, students can work within the Duke community to build a more equitable food system and continue these conversations:

Most importantly, remember to vote for candidates who care about improving the food system!

Additional contributions from: Lara Breitkreutz, Nicole Connelly, Elizabeth Onstwedder, Rochelle Sparko, Kasey Wien. DFFN hosted the Candidates’ Forum in partnership with Plate of the Union, CFSA, and Community Food Strategies. The Sanford School of Public Policy was among the event’s cosponsors.

 Julian is a medical student at Duke University studying in the Primary Care Leadership Track, a program that involves preparing primary care and working on population health. Julian is also working part-time on the planning team for the Duke World Food Policy Center. He loves playing music and his favourite food is Durham oyster mushrooms.

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Photo by Anathoth Garden in Cedar Grove, NC

Photo by Anathoth Garden in Cedar Grove, NC

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Kris Reid on Coordinating Local Food on a Large Scale

This piece was re-posted with permission and can be found on the Piedmont Culinary Guild website.

How do you serve a large group of people dedicated to local sourcing? And do it efficiently? Just ask Piedmont Culinary Guild (PCG) Executive Director Kris Reid.

Since 2009, Kris has been serving as the Food Coordinator for the Sustainable Agriculture Conference – an event hosted by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA). The 29th Annual SAC will be held November 10-12 at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville, SC – and she is more than ready for it.

Kris is no stranger coordinating meals on a large scale. As Executive Chef at Southminster, she has plenty of opportunities to hone her organizational skills.

Kris Reid

“Sourcing from small local farms creates challenges for large public venues,” she explains. “Besides delivery issues, other concerns may be food safety as well as standardized packaging for both produce and cuts of proteins. It all creates a barrier that larger distributors are just now beginning to step up and deal with.”

“During the event I work with the venue culinary team to serve upwards of 2500 meals over the course of the three-day conference. In 2009, there were over 50 deliveries made to the first site I worked with. The meals were comprised of 80% locally sourced products from small, mostly organic, farms. Over the years the distribution of local food has evolved, as has sourcing for the conference.”

Kris did take a hiatus from her SAC duties in 2013, and credits last year’s coordinator, Danielle Goldfischer Rowland of Rowland’s Row Family Farm, for making things much easier for her this time around. “Danielle helped streamline this process, which helped reduce deliveries to the site and relieved some of the account payable nightmare that can occur when dealing with multiple small farms and deliveries,” she says.

Barbee Farms Strawberries and PeachesIn addition to Kris, another Guild member will be represented at the conference. Brent Barbee of Barbee Farms is providing the strawberries and peaches which will appear on select menu items.

The majority of the produce will be coming from Eastern Carolina Organics of Durham, NC (one of the SAC sponsors). Proteins will be provided by Firsthand Foods, another Durham-based distributor that works with pasture-based livestock producers. These producers raise their animals humanely, without feeding antibiotics or animal by-products, nor do they use added hormones.

Additionally, specialty produce items, eggs, dairy, and pantry items are being sourced through Leading Green Distributing, which was named Business of the Year at the 2013 Sustainable Ag Conference.

All of these distributors deliver to Charlotte and surrounding areas.

As you can see, being the Food Coordinator for this major event is a significant undertaking. So why with a full-time job and other non-profit responsibilities, does Kris Reid eagerly do this?

“It’s simple, really,” she says. “If we are going to continue to develop our local food chain into a more cohesive system capable of serving our communities, we need to drive attention to the farmers, producers and distributors that can help us get there. SAC is a huge opportunity to show people that yes we can eat locally, and we can do it on any scale.”

Click here to download the Official 2014 Sustainable Ag Conference Brochure, which includes the complete pricing charts and registration form. Registration can also be completed online – Click Here.

Food Hubs & 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@

Putting Our Values on the Plate

27th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference: The Local Foods Feast

by Jacqueline Venner Senske, conference blogger

 

The task was to create a meal for 500 people from local food, something that many chefs may not believe feasible. But it happened, and it was a feast indeed.

  

The menu:

Kale and Winter Squash Stew

Arugula Salad

Vegetarian Hash

Collards with Fatback

Sea Island Red Pea Risotto

Cider—braised Beef

Apple-Pear Tart

 

So let’s start with the stats.

 

1858 pounds of produce

1829 pounds of meat and cheese

325 pounds of flour

120 pounds of grain

100 pounds of cornmeal

100 pounds of butter

25 gallons of milk

20 gallons of ice cream

8 gallons of cream

 

All of this came from 38 farmers and purveyors in the Carolinas by way of 3 local distributors and 1 really good, if freezing cold, friend (more on that later).

 

Well, okay, let’s be totally clear: these figures represent the total amount of local food acquired for all 2300 meals during the 3-day conference. But Friday evening’s Local Foods Feast was the highlight, to be sure. It’s the most formal and biggest single meal, and expectations are high as it takes place the first night of the conference and sets the tone for the weekend.

 

Luckily, the woman leading the effort is a pro. Literally. Not only is Chef Kris Reid leading this effort for the third year in a row, but she is also the Executive Chef at Charlotte’s Southminster Retirement Community, where her work in bringing local food into her institution – and amazing the residents there with incredible food – is exemplary.

 

Because Chef Reid has done this before, she has a good sense of how it needs to work. At least 6 months ahead, she froze local produce, like peaches, and combined them with things in season now. Because she brings local to her kitchen at Southminster every day, she knows how and where to source food and how to get the most from it.

 

But, because of all the moving parts, sometimes things don’t go as planned. For instance, a couple of days out, the arugula still hadn’t arrived. Chef Reid arranged an emergency, by-any-means-necessary delivery. A friend was en route to Greenville from Charlotte and met a produce truck at an abandoned gas station off I-85 to pick up several pounds of arugula. To keep the greens in good shape, Pam cranked the AC to chill the car. It worked – the arugula arrived in fine shape – but Pam was freezing. (Thanks for taking one for the team, Pam!)

 

The other part that made this work was a great collaboration between Chef Reid and Chef Brandon Lemiux of Greenville’s Hyatt Regency. It takes months, with multiple menu drafts, some education, and creative planning for where to store all that extra food. And it would have been impossible without the hard work of Chef Lemiux’s crew at the Hyatt, including 12 sous chefs, kitchen staff, and over 30 servers.

 

In the end, this meal was outstanding. Eaters raved, and there was just enough, which was a relief. With such work in not just growing the food but planning, sourcing, and preparing it, margins for this meal are tight. The goal is to have nothing left, so it’s a huge success that the amounts were almost spot-on for each service. Plus, the expenses were under budget. It cost $9 per plate, but would hit around $50 per plate in a restaurant.

 

Talking with Chef Reid at the end of the night, she was exhausted, but proud. She said she kept thinking of the prayer they say at every family meal in her house: “Thank you, farmers, for this food.”

 

Amen.