"Building a network of networks"

“Building a network of networks”

In 2008 and 2009, CEFS convened hundreds of food system stakeholders from across the state in “Farm to Fork”, a groundbreaking exploration of action opportunities for building a local, sustainable food system.  The initiative produced a statewide action guide identifying “game changer” strategies for transforming North Carolina’s food system, From Farm to Fork: Building a Sustainable Local Food Economy in North Carolina.

Community Food Strategies builds upon the original Farm to Fork, with an intentional focus on broadening its scope. “In the original Farm to Fork initiative, 60% of participants were from the Triangle

[region] and 25% were from higher education or government. As a result, we weren’t getting the whole picture,” explains CFS Coordinator Christy Shi Day.

Western regional meeting at the Local Food Council Gathering

Western regional meeting at the Local Food Council Gathering

Before planning began, Shi Day spent months listening to ideas from various groups across the state. From these conversations, she realized that the scale and focus of the initiative needed to be at the community level. “We have to figure out what’s happening at the local level [across the state] and where our communities are headed, and how that can be aggregated and communicated back to state-level actors who frequently have the resources, tools and connections that local groups need,” she says.

Shi Day assembled a project team including colleagues from Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), Care Share, University of North Carolina, and various staff from the defunded Community Transformation Grant initiative.

The project team decided to focus on Local Food Councils,groups that work on food system issues from information-sharing, to healthy food access, to policy change, in their own communities. Councils were already forming in many parts of the state as an outcome of the Farm to Fork process.

Networking at the Local Food Council Gathering

Networking at the Local Food Council Gathering

“We viewed these groups as potential access points for engaging diverse groups of food system actors at the community level,” she explains. Building on existing momentum, the Community Food Strategies initiative spent its first year strengthening and building capacity of local food councils.

An important aspect of this network development is providing institutional support.  At the local level, institutional support can come from local government.  Partnering with the UNC School of Government, CFS has been raising awareness and building readiness for local governments to engage with food council development.

“Community-level collaboration to develop local food systems is central to local government purposes because it speaks to community-building as a social phenomenon as well as other aspects of quality of life such as health, economy, and environment. Since the School of Government exists to provide support to local governments in North Carolina, partnering with CEFS to provide education and outreach on this important topic seemed like a natural fit,” says Rick Morse, Associate Professor of Public Administration and Government at UNC.

The work has also been supported by the Local Food Council of North Carolina (LFCNC), a statewide council comprised of organizations, agencies, and groups working from diverse approaches and for varying reasons on the common aim of strengthening North Carolina’s local food systems.  As the state food council, the LFCNC has chosen to focus on interacting with local councils to strengthen community efforts and coordinate efforts between groups.

The opening session at the Local Food Council gathering, Dec 4

The opening session at the Local Food Council gathering, Dec 4

Delegates from the fledgling local food council network were brought together for the first time December 4-5 in Winston-Salem, NC.  Over 120 delegates from more than 36 local groups and approximately 24 state organizations and agencies were convened by the LFCNC for their inaugural statewide conference.   The CFS team supported the LFCNC with design and implementation of the event.

Earline Middleton, Vice-President of Agency Services and Programs for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, chaired the event’s planning committee.  “The planning committee created a space where best practices could be explored, new ideas generated, and the experience of wisdom used to build healthy, vibrant families and strong communities,” she said.

At the conference, CFS team members Abbey Piner of CEFS and Katie Descieux of ASAP unveiled a toolkit for food councils.  A product of the CFS initiative, the “Collective Impact Toolkit” is designed to help local councils and networks bring together groups in their community and use the collective impact approach to planning.

In 2015, the CFS initiative will continue to strengthen the network of networks both at the state and local levels. CFS team members will also provide training and technical assistance for councils and networks interested in collective impact.  “We are setting in motion a type of action planning at the local level that brings people together around the results they’re trying to achieve” says Shi Day.

For more information about Community Food Strategies and Local Food Council work in North Carolina, contact Christy Shi Day or visit the NC Food Councils and Networks’ Facebook page.

From the December 2014 E-Newsletter