Efforts to build food policy councils growing across N.C.

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Community member Alan Rosenthal writes notes during the Monday, Feb. 27, meeting of the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council, held at the French Broad Food Coop in downtwown Asheville. The council working to strategize and collaborate on ways to improve access to affordable, healthy food for area residents. Matt Rose/Carolina Public Press

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part report on the role and goals of the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council, in light of a report released last week ranking the Asheville area third worst among 100 of the country’s largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas for food hardship, or the ability of residents to access enough nutritious, affordable food.

Read more: As more struggle to afford healthy food, Asheville-Buncombe council works to collaborate, make change

 

Last week, the Asheville area again topped a national ranking. But this ranking was less about touting the beauty of our mountains and lure of area tourist attractions.

Instead, it was about the difficulty many area residents face being able to afford enough nutritious food, a struggle the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council is hoping to change.

The Wasington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center ranked 100 of the largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the nation in a report released last week. [PDF] Asheville — which includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties — ranked third worst for food hardship, or the ability residents have to afford enough healthy food, one of the main concerns of the Food Policy Council.

Joy Hicks, a policy development analyst with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said food policy councils like the one in Asheville and Buncombe County are springing up around the state, including one in Charlotte and another in Cabarrus County, one county northeast of Charlotte.

“More and more, people are interested in finding out where their food comes from,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for consumers.”

Gordon Smith, a member of Asheville City Council and a founding member of the Food Policy Council, said organizers of the Asheville-Buncombe effort looked at the country’s first food policy council, formed in 1982 in Knoxville, Tenn., and one in Cleveland, Ohio, as models for local efforts.

And more may be underway.

The Lord’s Acre, a garden in Fairview, outside Asheville, is conducting a community food assessment that should be finished in July. Churches and community members work at the garden to grow fresh produce for area food banks.

The assessment may lead to another local food policy council, said Executive Director Susan Sides.

“We are mainly hoping to bring the community together by linking assets and weaknesses and by inspiring people with options for everything from start-up businesses to home gardens,” she said in an e-mail.

The N.C. General Assembly formed a statewide food policy council, the N.C. Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council, in 2009. According to the state council, its purpose is “to contribute to building a local food economy, thereby benefiting North Carolina by creating jobs, stimulating statewide economic development, circulating money from local food sales within local communities, preserving open space, decreasing the use of fossil fuel and thus reducing carbon emissions, preserving and protecting the natural environment, increasing consumer access to fresh and nutritious foods, and providing greater food security for all North Carolinians.”

Hicks said the state council hopes to eventually be a channel for communications between the local councils and state government.

Western North Carolina has a strong voice on the state food policy council, said Charlie Jackson, executive director of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. Jackson and Jamie Ager, of Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, are two Advantage West Region appointees to the 27-member council.

Though central and eastern counties may have closer ties to Raleigh, Jackson said, “The (state) body understands that we’re way ahead of developing food for the local economy.”

Jackson noted that although only one in nine North Carolinians is from a western county, one in four North Carolina farms is in the western region. And, he said, local food campaigns popular across the state are similar to the one ASAP launched 12 years ago to help mountain farmers.

But, Darcel Eddins, of Bountiful Cities, said that a local food policy council should have been established years ago.

Eddins is one of the originating members of the effort. A year ago, she began meeting with a handful of concerned citizens including Jodi Rhoden, owner of Short Street Cakes; Brandee Boggs, UNC Asheville Student Environmental Center director; and Olufemi Lewis, an Asheville resident. The group started looking at the problem, organized a series of forums last fall that drew about 90 people, and launched the Food Policy Council. Since then, the group’s actions included supporting a measure allowing neighborhood farmers markets.

“Asheville has been behind on this,” Eddins said.

Rhoden echoed this sentiment.

Asheville calls itself a “Foodtopia,” she said. But, she added, with restaurants serving $30 entrees, “(We’re) not a true Foodtopia until everyone has access to good food.”

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Katy Nelson

Katy Nelson is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact her at katy.nelson@gmail.com.

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