Youth Food Network Voices
Photo credit: Youth presenting at the Statewide Food Council Gathering in 2019.
I am Kianna Harrison, a proud member of the Community Strategies team. From January – August, 2021 I served as the Youth Food Council Catalyst working to strengthen connections between NC youth food councils and foster new relationships across the state. As a profound advocate for food security and food policy, it has been an honor to be a part of an extremely supportive team and to find new ways to engage youth in food-related projects.
I completed the following interviews to highlight youth council members, exciting new projects, obstacles faced along the way with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more. Please connect with any of these youth councils at their websites to learn more.
"This has been one of the best experiences of my life, the way that Mr. Chester reached out to all of us and brought us all in from different backgrounds and found our strengths."
Dylan Dodson, the tech guru and council member of A Better Chance A Better Community, also known as ABC2, has been involved with his council for a year. What inspired him to join ABC2 in the first place, he states, were the members already a part of the council, including Chester Williams, the CEO and Kentwan Williams: “ . . . The food and security program really interested me. Just how they have a large network of farmers and we’re able to bring these farmers’ markets and people together and teach them how to grow food…”
As he continued to be involved in ABC2, he states the most impactful experience he’s had up until now is the H-FAM (Healthy Food Access Map) project. “We’ve had them in Halifax, Edgecombe, Nash, Wilson, and Northampton County. . . I create the maps for the H-Fam for all five counties as well. The maps are for people to look at different things like household income, poverty, restaurant spending, food spending away from home, all those different types of filters.”
Dylan says that in 1-5 years from now, he sees ABC2 “being on a national level” due to the amazing assets of the council such as the GIS Club. The GIS club has done walk audits, in NC counties such as Scotland, and mapped all the hazards on their main street. The club’s main goal is to map the social determinants of health that cause a physical difference in people’s lives.
Dylan’s experience with ABC2 has been life changing, as he states that his time in the group thus far, has “probably been one of the best experiences of my life, just the way that Mr. Chester reached out to all of us and really brought us all in from different backgrounds and found our strengths.”
Nacaela Melvin and Harold Boyd are both longtime youth members of Men & Women United for Youth and Families, also known as MWUYF. Nacaela has been with the council for 3 years, while Harold has been a part of the group since he was in seventh grade and is now a freshman in college. Nacaela stated that the work and opportunities MWUYF had really attracted her to the group. Harold and his uncle had a business going that brought him to the group. Nacaela and Harold collectively agree that Vacation Vittles has been a very exciting project thus far. Harold stated the following about the project: “I would say Vacation Vittles is pretty new. It’s a way to provide vacationers with groceries. They’ll order their bags online and then we pack the bags with produce that we get and deliver them to nearby locations that they can go pick them up from, like the beaches.”
In addition, Nacaela and Harold state that one of the most impactful experiences they’ve had with MWUYF has been the conferences they attend to network with others. It was important to them to be able to speak with others and learn communication skills.
In the foreseeable future, Nacaela hopes that the council “grows in numbers and in knowledge, as well as who knows us. I hope we can reach out to more people and tell them about what we do. Harold, has similar hopes and that their group “can find more groups to connect with” all in an effort to expand their council and keep their legacy going.
Ree Ree Wei, a longtime valued member of Transplanting Traditions, has been involved with her council since she was 13 years old, making it a total of seven years of involvement in the Transplanting Traditions (TT) community. According to her, she joined it because she wanted “to do something, and I wanted to put the Korean community on the map. I especially value sharing our food and culture with others.” Along with the importance of sharing her culture with others, when asked about a favorite project of hers that she had done within any point of time at TT, Ree Ree Wei states that her favorite one “…was being able to plan for a Rooted and Community Conference in 2017 and being able to meet with the youth who were doing food justice related work across the US… It was great being able to have friendship with them and just having fun with them at this conference…”
Fast forward to the future, and within 1-5 years from now, Ree Ree sees her council continuing to “connect food and culture” and finding ways for the youth to do projects that are “meaningful for them in their personal and professional development.”
"There is no doubt that our NC youth food councils will serve as inspirational outlets for youth to gain interest in food-related issues and contribute to their communities."
Looking Ahead from the 1st Youth Food Catalyst
As a whole, the youth members of our NC youth food councils have high hopes to continue seeing our councils grow and expand. With the already implemented impactful projects, there is no doubt that NC youth food councils will continue to flourish with the insight of our youth and community involvement. As I move out of this position, I hope that the networks can continue to find ways to work together, both online and in person. Although maintaining virtual connections can be challenging, there is no doubt that upcoming projects in our NC youth food councils will serve as inspirational outlets for youth to gain interest in food-related issues and contribute to their communities.