WNC Foodshed Summit – Deepening Partnership
The Appalachian Foodshed Project (AFP), Community Food Strategies (CFS), and the Local Food Council of North Carolina (LFCNC) all co-hosted and helped organize this free, all-day event to build relationships among various stakeholders and sectors, to present new research and the status of ongoing initiatives, and to collectively begin to align regional priorities and indicators of progress.
“The Summit exceeded the goals we set: to plant seeds of increased networking and collaboration and to share resources across the region with new and existing food councils. We discovered commonalities across our special mountainous area and explored how to make Western North Carolina people healthier, less hungry, and prosperous,” shared Laura Cheatham, AFP WNC Community Coordinator and lead Summit Organizer.
The goals of this Summit were founded in cross-sector collaboration to build community resiliency. These are the same goals for local food councils and networks to build and maintain partnerships that strengthen the ties between and capacity of community members, businesses, and organizations. Hundreds of connections were made at this event helping to build the overall network, which we hope will translate into real and meaningful change within this community. The Summit attendees came from across the region and represented multiple sectors including various non-profit organizations (35%), higher education faculty and students (15%), Cooperative Extension (14%), private sector including farmers and retail (10%), representatives of the health sector (10%), state and local government officials (10%), the faith community (4%), and schools (1%).
Summit Resources & Presentations
WNC Community Food Security Assessment:
- Appalachian Foodshed Project WNC Community Food Security Assessment Report (pdf)
5-minute Speed Talks:
- Hunger Coalition of Transylvania County
- McDowell County Local Food Advisory Council
- Polk County
- Toe River Food Security Network
Newly Released WNC Community Food Security Assessment
John Eshleman, AFP Post-doctoral Research Associate, began the day presenting an overview of AFP’s newly released Western North Carolina Community Food Security Assessment, a final report from a five-year long multi-organizational project that compiled baseline food system data and an assessment of current organizations, programs, and policies across 27 counties in western NC. The AFP researchers used quantitative and qualitative data with contributions from many key partners across the region. A few highlights from their quantitative findings are listed to the right. View the full Western North Carolina Community Food Security Assessment here. In this Assessment, AFP cited many of the challenges faced by this region including chronic poverty, food deserts, transportation limitations, lack of knowledge around healthy food purchasing and preparations, and overall varying accessibility to healthy foods. The Assessment also outlined opportunities for the region, including the availability of healthy food options and successful collaborations and partnerships already working together to alleviate food insecurity. Active emergency food programs and community gardens are available across the region.
World Cafe around Whole Measures for Community Food Systems
The AFP used the Whole Measures for Community Food Systems framework to organize their research and communicate their findings. The Summit also used this concept of Whole Measures, six fundamental values of a community-based food system, to stimulate the “group think” around these components of the food system. Using the World Cafe approach, attendees had many opportunities to converse in small groups, learn from each other, and share ideas and experiences to build on each other’s work. In the next morning sessions, attendees split into groups based on Whole Measures (bolded below) and shared personal experiences and powerful moments when these values were being realized. Examples of an experience within each Whole Measure group include:
- Deep obligation and radical commitment to our neighbors and projects to help form Strong Communities,
- Story-telling can build trust and awareness to promote Justice & Fairness,
- Transitioning from wholesale market strategies to direct market sales to help grow Vibrant Farms,
- Land-use planning is powerful in maintaining Sustainable Ecosystems,
- Partnerships, collaboration, and deep listening to help create Healthy People,
- Engaging kids and having fun to help build Thriving Local Economies.
Whole Measures for Community Food Systems
Developing Regional Indicators to Track Progress
In the afternoon, groups of 10 to 20 participants based on sub-regions worked through a Results Based Accountability process that resulted in potential indicators that could track a shift toward a desired result – “a thriving, sustainable community-based food system in every WNC county”. During that process, group members also defined 1) the experience of this above result, 2) what was currently happening in their communities to reach that result, as well as 3) what could make greater impact toward that result. These indicators can help align community partners’ work toward common goals, while using their own leadership talents and resources to implement specific strategies and actions. The groups came up with very creative and compelling ways to track progress, and many groups came up with very similar indicators. Each group ranked their list of up to 20 potential indicators to select the top three to five.
The most common indicators that appeared across sub-regions were combined into these top five indicators for tracking progress in the western NC region:
- Increase in % of population with a livable wage
- Decrease in % of food insecure families
- Increase in % of population with healthy weight
- Increase in # of farmland acres in (food) production;
- Increase in sales of local foods
In efforts to capture future opportunities, each group drafted what collaborations, resources, outcomes, or programs would accelerate their work towards a thriving, resilient community food system. We compared these ideas and collected the most common themes from the whole group to share what participants felt would catalyze greater impact:
- Increase in schools & community involvement in local food production & use
- Increase in support from local government officials and key leaders
- More policies that promote stability, economic sustainability and a living wage;
- Increase in local food purchases by institutions and support from large employers
- More funding and resources for food systems staff, operations, and programs
- Better alignment of programs, organizations, and efforts to increase effectiveness
- More partnerships and robust collaboration amongst public and private sector agencies
- Access to success stories and best practices
- More media coverage and communication strategies to build awareness of food issues
- Greater consumer awareness of the impact of and buy-in for local foods
- Increase in profitable markets for local foods
- More fun and excitement at food and farming activitiesa
Review all of the RBA data from this Regional Visioning Exercise.
The information gleaned from these exercises will be provided to the LFCNC to see where they can champion these efforts and better support these regions at the state level. Three representatives from the LFCNC attended the event as a listening session for them to have and hear conversations and ideas surfacing throughout the room.
“It was exciting to feel the positive energy in the room. The top indicators will be useful in understanding key similarities and differences across the state, in developing region specific programming, and in leveraging resources specific to regional needs and priorities,” noted Joanna Lelekacs, LFCNC representative and Local Foods Flagship Program Manager for NC Cooperative Extension.
This event was the first of six regional gatherings that the LFCNC is co-hosting this year as listening sessions for the LFCNC to better understand local priorities and better advocate for and support those priorities on the state level. This collaborative process for collecting potential indicators for progress will be used at the other regional gatherings across the state.
When asked about next steps as the AFP wraps up their current work this June, Nikki D’Adamo-Damery, Appalachian Foodshed Deputy Director, says “We are currently working to transition into the Appalachian Foodshed Partnership as a means of continuing certain aspects of the work. We will continue to focus on facilitating an open information-sharing platform, using LocalWiki, and building relationships in the region, across sectors and geographic regions.”
More information about the Appalachian Foodshed Project is available on their website (appalachianfoodshedproject.org/) and through the interactive LocalWiki page, localwiki.org/bburg/Appalachian_Foodshed_Project. To join the Appalachian Foodshed Project listserv and get involved in the development of the Appalachian Foodshed Partnership, contact Nikki D’Adamo-Damery at Nikkid11@vt.edu. The Appalachian Foodshed Partnership will continue working across the multi-state Appalachian region; the LFCNC and Community Food Strategies will be working across North Carolina; and we hope that each participant will be working within their local communities to expand their networks.
This summit was the first of six regional gatherings where we will continue to nurture relationships and collaborate on regional priority setting. As many attendees noted in their evaluations, the opportunity to network and collaborate with the broader stakeholder group was the most important benefit of this gathering to further community work. Food councils and other community groups hold space to have those conversations, continue to build relationships across sectors, and collectively develop a shared vision for their region and how to get there. The most common theme harvested throughout the day was increased collaboration and partnership. Resilient communities are only as strong as the ties that hold it together.
Summaries from future gatherings where we will continue to nurture relationships and collaborate on regional priority setting will be posted at 2016 Regional Gatherings.