Connecting Communities and the Supply Chain
Touring Working Landscapes’ processing facility, mapping supply chain assets and opportunities, developing regional priorities, and building cross-county relationships were all part of the Northeast Regional Food Network Meeting attended by approximately 30 key community leaders on May 19th.
View this brief summary report here or read more details about the event below.
This Northeast regional gathering was the last of six regional events that were coordinated in response to positive feedback from a statewide Food Issues Forum for food councils in 2014. Community Food Strategies and the Local Food Council of North Carolina (LFCNC) partnered with other organizations across the state to host this series of regional gatherings at a smaller scale to facilitate continued networking and peer-to-peer learning. Review the summaries of other regional gatherings here.
Working Landscapes, a non-profit organization working to build more sustainable livelihoods in Warren County, co-hosted this event with Community Food Strategies and the LFCNC. Working Landscapes’s model of food entrepreneurship in a rural town served as a great foundation and inspiration for the day’s conversations on linking the farm-to-fork supply chains to improve economic opportunity and rural development. Warren County Commissioner and farmer, Victor Hunt, welcomed attendees and thanked them for their engagement in creating a thriving food system benefiting farmers, youth, and the broader community.
Gabe Cummings, co-founder of Working Landscapes, set the need for a regional context:”During the past year, we at Working Landscapes have become increasingly convinced that the solutions to food systems challenges in northeastern NC are going to be regional, due to the small sizes of local markets and shared logistics challenges. This event was well timed and really valuable to get representatives of counties across the region together to start a shared conversation.”
Food Initiatives Across the Region
Attendees arrived at Warren FoodWorks where Carla Norwood and Gabe Cumming, co-founders of Working Landscapes, led a discussion about the opportunities, realities, and risks of their rural development organization, which includes both a small food processing center and FoodWorks, a local bakery and coffee shop. Many attendees saw Working Landscape’s businesses as examples of work they would like to see in their own downtowns connecting farmers and the local community. Working Landscapes was founded in 2010 focused on ways to revitalize the local food and agriculture economy, and based on conversations with nearly 180 local residents. To build infrastructure that support small farms in Warren County, they established the Warren County Produce Center which chops and bags fresh, local produce for distribution to schools, hospitals, and other institutions. While we toured the facility, a delivery truck arrived with 500 pounds of cabbage to be processed for the Beaufort County School system. In the last three weeks, this facility processed 22,000 pounds of spinach for Seal the Seasons, a local frozen produce company based in the Triangle who recently started distributing through Whole Foods.
After a great lunch provided by Warren FoodWorks, we heard brief reports about the work of the following food networks in the region:
With a recent $100,000 Farm to School implementation grant, Beaufort County Schools worked with community support to fund local fruits, vegetables, and ham in school menus, several school gardens and locally grown produce curriculum, and even a refrigerated truck for produce deliveries. They purchased 1000s of pounds of strawberries, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, and collards from area farms and have plans to purchase more in the future.
Off the Docks is a supply chain business, taking Carolina seafood west to the urban centers in North Carolina. They are coordinating freight opportunities that take seafood inland and bring back fruits, vegetables and other NC products to the coast.
The Outer Banks Food Council began as a Task Force, working for nearly two years to define the goals and structure of the Council. They have been operating as a council for 18 months and are focused on getting farmers into distribution networks. The opportunity in their community is that they have plenty of tourists that want local food, and their challenge is the limited number of farmers to supply those products.
The Partnership to Increase Community Health (PICH), Healthy Foods Program is working to create and enhance farmers markets, roadside stands, mobile markets, and Community Supported Agriculture across 17 counties in this NE region. This group’s monthly meetings offer a space for continued food systems development conversations at a regional level.
The Pitt County Farm and Food Council Task Force has a group of strong leaders from various sectors that have been working diligently over the past year to create a food council charter, mission, vision, and structure with the support of facilitation provided by Community Food Strategies. They have recently been approved as a sanctioned county board by their county commissioners. The Task Force plans on hosting five public forums across the county in the summer and fall as a way to engage the community and to invite people to apply to join the Council.
Halifax County has support from the Catalysts for Healthy Eating and Active Living through the NC Public Health Foundation to organize the Roanoke Valley Local Food Roundtable, a subgroup of the Valley Health Initiative. They coordinate several farm-to-fork projects in the area including a local foods festival at the Roanoke Valley Farmers Market.
The Twin Counties Just Foods Group, facilitated by Rural Forward, brings together catalysts, various sectors, and community leaders from Nash and Edgecombe counties. With the help of Rural Support Partners, they have been pulling together an inventory of organizations and businesses that support local foods production, access, and consumer awareness.
The Warren County Food Council currently functions within the NC Cooperative Extension advisory system and has the support of county commissioners. They are working on building consumer awareness through local lunches, farm tours, and a directory of local products.
The Wilson Food Network is a network of about 50 organizations working to address food insecurity and healthier fresh food access for everyone. They have been successful at building collaboration amongst organizations, developing a 2-acre corporate garden that supplies fresh produce to pantries, and coordinating the collection and distribution of deer meat.
Regional Visioning Exercise
Small groups worked through a regional visioning exercise based on the Results Based Accountability (RBA) process. This exercise relies on everyone’s experiences to gain a better understanding of the region’s assets and needs and can help local communities and organizations assess their resources and determine how to best contribute to common regional goals. The groups separately went through this process of:
- Defining the experience of a shared result or goal (a thriving, sustainable community-based food system across all NC counties);
- Listing measurable indicators that would track a shift toward that result;
- Sharing what was already happening in their community; and
- Brainstorming what could make a greater impact in reaching the stated result.
*You can review all of the raw RBA data collected at this meeting.
The groups ranked their list of indicators to choose their most important ones to track a shift toward the shared result. Participants chose the following as the top indicators:
- # of supply chain connections
- # of economic opportunities in food & farming for people of color and/or low-income individuals
- # of viable small farms
- % of population w/chronic diseases related to diet or food production
- $ spent on local food
- # of minority farm owners and minority principle operators
- # of acres in small-scale production
- $ from, lbs produced, or # of local fruit and vegetable production farms
- # of local food supply chain businesses or facilities
Each group discussed what is currently working in their communities and began brainstorming various partnerships, actions, or resources that would make an even greater impact. The information collected in this exercise sparked ideas and new synergies that could occur between organizations. These strategies, along with the event summaries, are being shared with the LFCNC to inform their own efforts.
Libby Smith, LFCNC representative, reflects on all of the recent regional gatherings with this perspective: “The breadth of participation and engagement in each of the six regions we visited is so exciting. As members of the LFCNC we can’t help but be inspired to roll up our sleeves, even further, and do all that we can to support their efforts. We look forward to celebrating, with them, their continued successes.”
County Local Farms & Food Profiles
NC Agricultural & Technical State University and partners are releasing County Local Farms and Food Profiles which show the percent change from 2007 to 2012 USDA Agriculture Census data within each county. Attendees received these graphics, which are one component in a set of tools being developed to help shape conversations with economic developers and community decision makers about opportunities to drive the local food economy.
If a county’s farmers’ market sales are declining and a neighboring county’s market sales are increasing, what could they learn from each other to improve those numbers? Comparing these trends is one way to inspire county and sector collaboration. Some counties may not have data, and food councils could encourage better reporting of agriculture census data for a more accurate picture of agriculture trends and economic development opportunities.
Asset Mapping of the Northeastern NC Region
In response to conversations about the need to build more regional infrastructure to support local farmers and the local food economy, participants engaged in an exercise to map existing and needed regional infrastructure facilities and assets. Four groups of participants each took one quadrant of Interstate-95 and Highway 70 corridors to document processing facilities, distribution hubs, farms, community partners, funders, and other assets that would help build this infrastructure. This exercise created a visual and shared understanding of existing infrastructure and gaps necessary to build a more robust system of local food production and market outlets.
At the close of the day, individual groups or counties discussed potential next steps for their councils and the larger region. We hope attendees will act on at least one of those next steps created (see some next steps below). Community Food Strategies will continue to explore more opportunities for future gatherings and continue to develop resources that support capacity building at the local and regional levels.
Here are some potential next steps below:
- Report back to your network on this regional gathering. Some questions to consider with your network:
- Do the regional indicators resonate in your local community?
- What are the metrics for these indicators in your county?
- What is your network doing to shift these indicators?
- How could you use the County Local Farms & Food Profiles?
- Send the Summary Report to your local government officials and suggest a meeting to share your work.
- Build relationships with your local media contacts. Call the local newspaper and share the brief summary report or other information about your council/network.
- Invite neighboring food networks to join your meetings to continue collaboration.
- Connect with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/communityfoodstrategies to keep informed of future networking opportunities.