By Tes Thraves, CEFS’ Youth and Community-Based Food Systems Coordinator

During CEFS’ recent Farm to Fork Picnic Weekend, CEFS awarded its very first Local Food Heroes Awards.  Reflecting the youth focus of this year’s Farm to Fork Picnic Weekend, honorees are all youth and their youth organizers who work in partnership with CEFS.

Honoring these youth also honors the elders and communities behind them, as their work is deeply intergenerational. Their work reflects the dedication to place and community instilled in them. They are proud of where they come from and are dedicated to one of CEFS’ core mission elements: building strong communities. They are in fact living proof of strong communities.

How often we talk about young people as “emerging leaders,” but they are more than future leaders  – they are current change makers. They have been doing amazing work in their own communities for years, changing things for the better—connecting the dots between concepts about local food and lived realities of how local food can shine a light on injustice and increase equity in day-to-day life. They understand systems, and collaboration, and intersectionality.  And they are awe-inspiring!

Emilee Register

 Emilee Register is a Wayne County teen who is making a real impact on her community. Emilee is a graduate of CEFS’ SWARM (Students Working for an Agricultural Revolutionary Movement) program, a group of youth food activists working to change their community in Goldsboro NC. Emilee became a fierce yet humble leader and food justice activist with a passion for agriculture. She is one of a few African-American Future Farmers of America members at her school, participated in North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s Institute for Future Ag Leaders, and was a Park Scholar semi-finalist who continues to volunteer and lead activities at the Wayne County Public Library’s community garden.  Emilee is a Local S’hero!

Transplanting Traditions

The teen youth group at Transplanting Traditions is all about possibilities.  These youth honor where they come from, seek out current leadership opportunities, and make change in their community.  The entire youth group at Transplanting Traditions has done amazing documentary work with elders around foodways and culture: audio work, photography, and video. They host dinners and lead tours at the farm and they help run the farmers market stands, creating avenues for the broader community to understand their culture.  Participants of CEFS’ Food Youth Initiative, we wish to honor all the youth involved at Transplanting Traditions for their endless innovation and energy to make things happen, their leadership within their community and beyond, and their drive and optimism towards making their community strong.

Poder Juvenil Campesino, “Rural Youth Power” in English, is a group of middle and high schoolers from farmworker families in Eastern North Carolina.  They have worked diligently on everything from national lobbying in DC for the protection and rights of children working in the fields to local education in their community, holding panel discussions called “Youth Speaks” for educators and policy makers about the issues faced by farmworker communities.  They are professionally trained as photographers and have a nationally traveling exhibit that puts both struggles and resilience in print. They have led food drives and started gardens and built chicken coops for their neighbors.  Always, they inspire and educate: each other, the other youth groups in CEFS’ Food Youth Initiative, and everyone who meets them. We are all lucky to have them in our state and appreciate them endlessly as Local Food Heroes.

The youth group at Conetoe Family Life Center is part of the larger healthy living effort at their church in Conetoe (Edgecombe County), North Carolina, and participants in CEFS’ Food Youth Initiative.  The whole congregation works a small sustainable farm and cooks healthy meals for members, and the youth are a vital force in the farm work and anti-hunger efforts.  They also raise bees and teach bee keeping, as well as market and sell their honey. They lead workshops for other youth and adults on everything from growing food to composting and they gather weekly to support each other, to keep steady in addressing community as well as individual goals.  They are part of. Reverend Joyner and all the many youth at CFLC understand and appreciate growing food as a vehicle for social change and we thank them all for seeing the deep value in rooting change in the soil of this earth.

The young men of Growing Change are flipping a closed prison in Wagram North Carolina into a sustainable farm and education center.  And they are flipping their lives around while they do it.  These youth are addressing the root causes of inequities in our food system, and making opportunity out of some of the harshest problems faced in rural North Carolina.  They’ve also created a comic book about their experiences, storying their lives and their successes in ways that can really reach other youth facing similar struggles.  They do this work in an intentionally multi-racial group—working together as African-American, Latino, Native American, and white youth.  Part of CEFS’ Food Youth Initiative, they see themselves as “part of the solution”, and so do we.

Josie Walker

Josie Walker is a recent graduate of N.C. A&T in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. She grew up in Trenton (Jones County), North Carolina and is devoted to both the concept and reality of sustainability. Josie is skillful in teaching the benefits of local foods and believes that people are more receptive to new ideas if they see the relevance to their own lives. While at N.C. A&T, she served as the NC 10% Campaign Local Food Ambassador and built bridges between students and faculty/staff from multiple departments as well as the local community and Cooperative Extension. Josie also worked to connect Eastern North Carolina farmers with new markets through an NC Growing Together Local Food Supply Chain Apprenticeship with Feast Down East.  She is yet another S’hero and we are awed by how many she has inspired, including us.

Congratulations to all of this year’s Local Food Heroes!  Thanks for everything you do!