Author Archives: kvines

Using a “Food Shed” Concept to Frame the Regional Food System

By Ned Savage, AmeriCorps VISTA, Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP)

Those of us participating in the Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP), in Roanoke, find the concept of a “food shed” to be helpful when considering our regional food system. A food shed is defined as how food moves between producer and consumer. In the Roanoke region, we have defined our food shed as the cities of Roanoke and Salem and the contiguous counties of Roanoke, Bedford, Botetourt, Craig, Montgomery, Floyd, and Franklin.

Within our regional food system, a number of counties and communities have done food system assessments/studies and food system plans. Many of these studies are helpful in understanding local- and county-level issues, but if we only think in hyper local terms, then we end up with a piecemeal approach to food system planning. Food does not stop at county or city lines and the infrastructure and connections that sustain strong food systems have to cross political lines. In the fall of 2016, LEAP compiled the existing data, research and plans from throughout the region into one consolidated report that identifies common trends, key barriers, and potential opportunities.

The Roanoke Local Regional Food and Agriculture report, while helpful in considering the state of our regional food system, was notable for its lack of one key voice – the farmer’s.  While LEAP has long been engaged in providing additional market outlets for local farmers, we wanted to hear directly from producers what barriers, struggles, and challenges they face to running viable farm businesses, and what else our organization could do to support them and their work. And so, in close collaboration with Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), we researched other models and designed and held a series of Farmer Listening Sessions. Read more.

Organizing a Farm to Table Meal

By Megan Dunford – Virginia Farm to Table Coordinator, Virginia Cooperative Extension & Eric Bendfeldt – Extension Specialist, Community Viability, Virginia Cooperative Extension

There is no denying that the farm to table trend and its impacts have taken root in communities throughout Virginia, and across the United States. Farm to table meals have the potential to generate grassroots support for area farms, farmers markets, and local food programs. While sharing a thoughtfully prepared meal, community members have the chance to bond and reconnect over a region’s shared agriculture. If the perfect storm of local food advocates presents itself, use these suggestions as a starting point to organize a Farm to Table meal and event in your own community. Read more.

Collaboration – The key to food council/network success

By Kelli Scott, Montgomery County Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension

The conversations around agriculture, food, and community continue to bubble up in localities across the Commonwealth and the nation. County, city, and local government bodies see a benefit and overall positive impact in building a collaborative team among service providers and practitioners working to promote community, local, and regional food systems as an economic driver all while looking at improving food access, health, and nutrition options for all members of the community.  The conversations are often messy at first where multi-sectors of the community are working together that may not have done so traditionally.  These interwoven teams are often called “food councils” or “food networks” and have a much greater opportunity of success when we all work together. Read more

Virginia Market Manager Certification Course

By Meredith Ledlie Johnson, Coordinator, Food Access and Availability Initiative, Family Nutrition Program (EFNEP and SNAP-Ed), Virginia Cooperative Extension

Overview of Program

An exciting pilot farmers market manager certification program was developed in response to market managers’ stated need for continuing education. The goal of the certification program was to professionalize the role of market manager, and lessen turnover in this position.

The certification program was developed through a collaborative partnership between Virginia Farmers Market Association and Virginia Cooperative Extension, with sponsorship by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Read more

Virginia’s Family Nutrition Program is designing a comprehensive program around healthy food retail

By Liza Dobson, Healthy Food Retail Coordinator, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, Lynchburg

The Family Nutrition Program’s (FNP) (http://blogs.ext.vt.edu/eatsmart-movemore/) mission is to teach limited-resource families and youth to make healthier food choices and become better managers of available food resources for optimal health and growth. Our programs focus on basic nutrition, physical activity, safe food handling, and thrifty food shopping.  FNP Program Assistants conduct educational programming in schools, foodbanks, farmers markets, community gardens, and numerous other venues, contributing to the reduction of healthcare costs for 148,000 SNAP-eligible Virginians. Read more.

Food System Thinking at LEAP (Local Environmental Agriculture Project) in Roanoke, VA

By: Maureen McNamara Best, Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP) (www.leapforlocalfood.org)

We all eat. So that means we all understand, value, and think about food, agriculture, and food producers, right?

As a society, our school systems and holidays still nod to our agrarian past. But for most us, our lives are not structured around soil preparation, planting time, harvest schedules, or feeding livestock. And, if at all, we only spend a couple minutes a day thinking about where our food comes—and that time is probably focused on the logistics of purchasing food from a retailer and/or consuming a prepared meal. In a complex, industrialized society— we specialize. And in that sense, the food industry is no different. But at what cost? Read more

Foodshed team learns how to establish consent instead of consensus

By Tracy Kunkler, MS – Social Work, professional facilitator, planning consultant, and principal at http://www.circleforward.us/

Members of the AFP team sitting around a table.

Image 1 – Photo of AFP team meeting.

In the blog on May 4th, Propositions for Organizing with Complexity; Learnings from the Appalachian Foodshed Project (AFP), Nikki D’Adamo-Damery described nine propositions that emerged from the work of the AFP. Proposition #2 was: “Establish Consent instead of Consensus.” The following story describes one of the experiences that led to this proposition.

This arose when the AFP management team met to award mini-grants to on-the-ground projects that addressed community food security. The team included the principal investigators, graduate students, extension agents, and representatives from community-based organizations, and so reflected some of the diversity of the system within which they were working.  The team was using a collaborative decision-making framework, and the basis for decisions was the principle of consent. Read more

Propositions for Organizing with Complexity; Learnings from the Appalachian Foodshed Project

by Nikki D’Adamo-Damery and Phil D’Adamo-Damery, Former Deputy Director of the AFP (2011-2016), currently serving as the Community Coordinator for the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust

Image explaining the Cynefin Framework (Snowden & Boone, 2007)

How do you create a place-based food system that is resilient, accessible, affordable, and healthy for Appalachian communities? That question was at the heart of the Appalachian Foodshed Project’s (AFP) work in West Virginia, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina. The AFP engaged nutritionists, food distributors, sustainable agriculture experts, NGO’s, funders, government agencies, educators, producers, and community activists to creatively address food security across Central Appalachia using funding from the USDA’s AFRI* program. Over the course of 5 years, we moved beyond the search for silver bullets and easy solutions, and instead focused on how we might create the conditions for long-term, dynamic change.

In order to make this shift, we had to change the way we understood food security. Community food security is not a simple, or even a complicated, problem, even though we often treat it as such. It is complex, involving ever-moving relationships between culture, economics, environment, and policy.  In order to address this complexity, we need to find new ways of working together so that we can nimbly respond to changing dynamics. (Read more)

SNAP Seeds and Seedlings Grow Home Gardens in the Shenandoah Valley

by Liz Kirchner, Virginia SARE Outreach Coordinator and Healthy Food Access Project, Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, Northern District

Home garden food production – even if that means a tomato in a bucket – is widely recognized to contribute to household nutrition and self-reliance. Garden produce strengthens ties between neighbors as those tomatoes are swapped, and maintains traditional foodways as gardening stories, seeds, and cooking skills are shared. However, not everybody realizes that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings, a caveat to the 1973 Farm Bill gauged to help people plant gardens. To raise awareness – and home gardens, too – Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Health Food Access program will host a series of seedling planting events with food pantry clients throughout the spring.

We will begin in May, after the frost-free date. The project goal is to send SNAP clients and other food pantry participants home with a planted seedling and a mapped list of nearby SNAP retailers who sell seedlings. Retailers identified using the ArcGIS, Google Maps, and the Buy Fresh Buy Local Guide include Walmart, some Food Lions, independent groceries, and the Staunton, Dayton, Waynesboro, and Harrisonburg Farmers’ Markets. (Continue reading)

Developing the VCE Model of Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems

By Joyce Latimer, Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Tech

Most great projects start with a model. Our model began as a draft concept that the VCE Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems (CLRFS) steering committee developed using a wide array of literature with a focus on the Whole Measures for Community Food Systems and the C.S Mott Group’s model for community-based food systems.  After several iterations within our steering committee, we tested our model in an interactive mapping exercise conducted at the 2016 VCE CLRFS Forum held in Richmond VA. Our “mapping” activity launched the day’s event by way of setting up flip charts and questions for the participants to respond to as they entered the meeting room.  Our goal was to generate feedback and shared learning about the kinds of work we do and the impacts we believe we have in our communities.  These questions and prompts included:

Q1/flip chart: From your current work, what CLRFS-related issue or project are you most excited about?

Q2/flip chart:   What one impact do you most hope to see come to light from your CLRFS-related work?

VCE Model of Community, Local, Regional Food Systems - a work in progress from the CLRFS Forum.

VCE Model of Community, Local, Regional Food Systems – a work in progress from the CLRFS Forum.

Q3/CLRFS Graphic:   Where and how do you “do” the work?

The resulting graphic with dots and post-it notes not only shows how we work together across the food system through a number of support functions and processes, but it emphasizes where this work falls along the food system value chain. Lastly, this model emphasizes the value-based impacts that stem from a growing number of projects, programs, and research initiatives that cut across our departments, offices, and historical program areas in VCE.

The Steering Committee used feedback from the mapping exercise and the Forum participants to revise the model as shown below to use as a guide to organize our food systems work as we try to understand its breadth across the Commonwealth. We still consider our model a work in progress. For a printable copy of the model, visit http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/ALCE/ALCE-154/ALCE-154-PDF.pdf.

VCE CLRFS Model as evolved with input from other groups.

VCE CLRFS Model as evolved with input from other groups.