By Gini Knight, Program Coordinator, Community Food Strategies.  This blog originally appeared on the Community Food Strategies website.  

Thursday_04_Keynote-3On November 30 and December 1, 2017, North Carolina’s network of local food councils and their partners came together for two days in Bermuda Run, NC for the Statewide Food Council Gathering to sharpen skills, share resources, build momentum, and foster a collaborative community. Community Food Strategies believes that strengthening this dedicated network of individuals, organizations, and local food councils will build power to drive systems change – equitable food systems change. This event brought people together in a creative, inclusive environment to facilitate idea exchange, collaboration, and inspiration.

“Thanks for a great event, helping ground the work, find inspiration at a challenging time in our organization’s development, and build community with great folks!”  

– Statewide Food Council Gathering attendee

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From event evaluations, 85% of survey respondents made more than four new connections and 12% made more than 10 new connections.

There was a great turnout for this two-day event. Nearly 180 people attended this gathering, representing 28 of North Carolina’s 33 local food councils, plus the state-level North Carolina Local Food Council, and several other attendees from Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. We are especially heartened by the participation considering that most food council members are volunteers dedicated to systems change in their communities, and we know that taking two days out of what are very busy lives with work, family and many personal obligations is significant. Thanks to the engagement of so many participants, we’ve seen opportunities, enthusiasm and ideas come alive from this convening.

“Hearing insight from so many different voices really opened my eyes to the power of a local food council.”

– Statewide Food Council Gathering attendee

Based on responses from evaluations, attendees are planning to use the new information they learned and turn it into concrete next steps for their food council or organization.  Most of these next steps will focus on:

  • Building capacity (29% of responses)
  • Focusing on equity (27% of responses)
  • Expanding partnerships (23% of responses)
  • Organizing a specific event or action (21% of responses)

These responses for next steps aligned well with the content and focus of this gathering. We aimed to further develop a shared language and understanding of the frameworks reflecting food councils and the network.  We opened the gathering sharing the Phases of Council Development and Phases of Racial Equity within an organization.  We encouraged discussion and reflection within individual food councils and regions regarding where they see themselves within each phase. Attendees met by region to build relationships and discuss successes and challenges.

Our keynote speaker, Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, discussed the history of key players organizing around food system issues in North Carolina. She encouraged local food councils to work with marginalized rural communities and to ensure that equity and food sovereignty were at the forefront of their work.

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This is how our graphic facilitator, Caryn Hanna, captured each of the Ignite talks.

Over lunch on the second day, we heard from six community members in the form of brief Ignite Presentations. Presenters were encouraged to use the Ignite format, which only allows 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. In total, each presenter was given just five minutes to highlight their work in a clear message. We chose this format to highlight the work happening across the state in a fun, engaging way. We’ll be releasing videos of their individual talks over the next few months.

Fifteen workshops included panel discussions and expert presenters on topics such as storytelling with integrity, food policy, best practices for food hubs, food council structures, measuring impact, leadership development and transition, and a regional approach to food systems. You can find the presentation slides and summaries captured on our website at the link above. We hope the network and others will continue to use these as resources to deepen their work.


Over the years, Community Food Strategies has supported statewide and regional convenings of food councils virtually and through in-person convenings. We will continue to host regional conference calls quarterly to connect food councils by region. For 2018, we are planning to host regional gatherings again to broaden the network of partners for food councils, and will return to a single larger gathering in 2019. We continue to be inspired by convenings as a way to strengthen relationships and voices to build power in our local communities.

“All the speakers I heard, plenary and breakout were engaging, insightful, and informative.”

– Statewide Food Council Gathering attendee

We want to thank all of our sponsors, speakers, volunteers, staff, organizational partners, and attendees for making this event a success! We look forward to continuing this work with all of you.