By Gini Knight, Community Food Strategies Program Associate

Last year at this time, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council brought their community together with local candidates for office to talk all about FOOD in Mecklenburg County. This year, with the support of Community Food Strategies and Plate of the Union, four more food councils will follow suit, raising community voices to share the value of community food systems with current and future elected officials.

Freshly brewed coffee and fact sheets were both ready at 8 am on a bustling Thursday morning last fall at 7th St. Public Market in downtown Charlotte. Members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council waited for community members and political candidates running for school board, mayor and city council to join them for a cup of coffee and some conversation to talk about all things food and farming. “In efforts to engage the community with local officials and educate our leaders on healthy food in schools and neighborhoods, supporting sustainable agriculture, and growing opportunities for local farms and food entrepreneurs in our county, we decided to host this event where the two audiences could co-mingle,” said Erin Brighton, Executive Director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council.

By 9 am more than 30 community members and nearly a dozen local officials were trading stories and questions about current issues around food, farming and health. As a small non-profit organization focused on building a sustainable, equitable and healthy local food system, the Food Policy Council leveraged their partner resources to organize a successful Meet & Greet Candidate Forum and are doing it again this year, along with four other food council groups.

Food councils are intentionally cross-sector community groups working together to make change in their food system. They focus on broad community-wide input and create an atmosphere for farmers, local planners, economic developers, parents, nurses, and others to come together to create a complete picture of the community’s food system and establish a foundation for long-term collaboration. Expanding working relationships and learning other perspectives in the community allows for creativity and deepened understanding of the real issues, the systemic impact of policies and programs. Developing these relationships creates invaluable opportunities for conversations and ideas to emerge. With cultivation, these relationships can evolve into fruitful collaborative partnerships.

“Food systems issues will require federal, state, and local action and we want to build a movement with grassroots organizations and community members. We are here to support folks already working in North Carolina,” says Robert Corriher, Plate of the Union organizer.

Community Food Strategies is embarking on a new collaborative partnership this fall with Plate of the Union, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and local food councils in Alamance, Durham, and Mecklenberg Counties to bring greater awareness of food and farm issues at local, regional, and national levels. This partnership is working to build local capacity and engagement by helping local food councils with event planning, media strategy, and policy expertise.

The Plate of the Union, a national campaign to charge the next president with championing food system change, brings the national spotlight and media expertise. They are calling on the next president to make good food policy a priority, which includes reforming agricultural policies to protect farmers of all sizes and promote diversified farming in all communities. Along with North Carolina, Plate of the Union placed organizers in three other battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa. Our presidential candidates are paying close attention to what happens in these states.

“Food systems issues will require federal, state, and local action and we want to build a movement with grassroots organizations and community members. We are here to support folks already working in North Carolina,” says Robert Corriher, Plate of the Union organizer.

Community Food Strategies, a statewide food systems initiative led by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems along with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, Care Share Health Alliance, and Carolina Common Enterprise, brings a connection to the network of local food councils and North Carolina policy advocates and experts. The local food councils offer existing relationships with partners and local politicians, knowledge of the community’s issues, and an avenue to engage citizen interest.

Effective policy work involves getting to know people, building relationships, and partnering with decision makers. It also involves education or advocacy on certain causes, bringing a stronger, well-informed voice to the table. Since food councils create space to listen to those impacted by policy, engage leading practitioners, and foster unlikely partnerships to emerge, they are well positioned to support comprehensive public policy shifts that positively impact the whole community.

Many food councils are built on the foundation of engaging a wide range of stakeholders, understanding the complex intersections of food and farm-related issues, and seeking strategic partnerships to leverage resources and make change. Given this foundation and their common goal of improving their community’s food system, food councils have the ability to be a leader and innovator in public policy and systems change. With opportunities for new entrepreneurial activity and increased community vitality, local governments and city councils would benefit from their efforts.

Community Food Strategies supports food council efforts in policy action and will be releasing Strategic Plan for Policy Action toolkit and an Event Planning toolkit soon. Find more information at

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