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June 01, 2009

Farm to Fork Summit focuses on local food systems

Gov. Beverly Perdue offers support for local food systems at the Farm to Fork Summit. (Becky Kirkland photos)

How would you build local food economies for North Carolina communities? About 400 farmers, food service buyers, health professionals, county government officials, chefs and university representatives came together at the Farm to Fork Summit held in N.C. State’s McKimmon Center in May to ask that question as they develop a State Action Plan. The conference included remarks and pledges of support by Gov. Beverly Perdue, U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton and other dignitaries.

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), directed by Dr. Nancy Creamer, hosted the summit, which took place after more than a year of planning and conversations. Last fall, CEFS hosted six regional summits to learn what was happening regionally to build local food economies and to identify opportunities and obstacles. Other dignitaries offering support were Dr. Jon Ort, director of N.C. Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. State University, Dr. M. Ray McKinnie, administrator of N.C. Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University, and Maurice Totty of the Compass Group, the world’s largest food distributor.

Ort and McKinnie pledged support for local food economies in North Carolina during the Farm to Fork Summit. When Extension interviewed 22,000 citizens last summer about what they needed, local food was a key issue identified as needing support from Extension, Ort told the group. He pledged support for a Web site that would help producers and consumers with production, marketing and access to local foods.
In addition, training will help Extension agents increase their skills for building local food economies.

"Extension is working on all sides of this issue," Ort said. "A number of counties are already working on this, but there’s a lot more work to be done."

McKinnie said the local foods movement takes Extension back to its roots – teaching people how to grow food. By working across program areas, he said, Extension can help support local foods initiatives.
Brenda Sutton, who serves as The Produce Lady for Extension’s Value-Added and Alternative Agriculture Program and Rockingham County Extension director, was among the Extension professionals attending the conference.

"I'm just so excited to see such support from a diverse audience for a more common sense approach to food distribution,” Sutton said. “The summit provided an opportunity for so many conversations to help us all move forward with the local foods movement in our own communities."

"The most exciting part for me was meeting all the different people who have a similar interest in local foods," said Amy-Lynn Albertson, agricultural agent in Davidson County. "I am
excited about all of the potential partnerships and the energy these people bring to the table."

Gov. Beverly Perdue told the crowd enthusiastic crowd that the Governor’s Mansion – which she called "the people’s house" – had an organic vegetable garden that contributed food to local food banks. She pledged her full support for building sustainable, local food economies for North Carolina.

"I’m on your team. Tell me what you need to grow this whole new industry," she said to the large summit gathering. "If you need a Sustainable Agriculture Council, you tell me. I understand. I will join with you."

Farm to Fork participants discuss issues in breakout sessions.

The first day of the summit, 11 working issues teams presented Game Changer ideas that could be implemented to move their causes forward. The ideas ranged from establishing a marketing campaign aimed at getting North Carolina consumers to eat 10 percent local foods to developing a community garden in each county to creating a state Food Safety and Security Commission to help small producers deal with regulatory complexity.

Before the conference even got underway, one of the working issue teams came close to achieving a major goal – legislative action on establishing a sustainable local food policy council for North Carolina. As a direct result of action by the Foundations and Baselines WIT, Sen. Charles Albertson introduced S.B. 1067, which passed the state senate on May 12, the second day of the summit.
Summit participants also met in six regional groups to discuss how to implement a plan for their regions. Listserv groups will be established for the regional areas to stay in contact with one another.

CEFS Director Nancy Creamer told the participants of next steps for the project. CEFS is developing the State Action Plan for Building a Sustainable Local Food Economy in North Carolina that will be presented to decision makers, policy makers, business leaders, government agencies and funders over the next few months. Many of the other Game Changer ideas are being developed.

Grant funds from Golden LEAF Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will establish a position to help move many aspects of the Farm to Fork initiative forward. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program funds will support training for county teams that want to develop local food economies. W.K. Kellogg Foundation funding to CEFS will provide mini-grants for small projects.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at June 1, 2009 11:25 AM