By Chris Epes, Associate Extension Agent – Horticulture, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Norfolk, VA
Think of Norfolk, Virginia and you think of a lot of things – unrelated to nutrition problems. It’s home to the world’s largest naval station. Norfolk is military. Located in the heart of Hampton Roads, Norfolk is one of the most important shipping hubs in the world. Norfolk is blue-collar. Norfolk is as urban as it gets in America.
What outsiders may not know is that Norfolk has its fair share, and more, of the kinds of systemic problems that plague urban communities, in addition to essentially being ground zero for sea-level rise. Norfolk faces many challenges. Violent crime, single-income households and nutrition related disease and mortality rates in Norfolk are well above state averages. Not surprisingly, this goes hand in hand with the prevalence of fast food and convenience store-laden neighborhoods as well as food deserts in the area. Read more.
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.
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
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.
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)
The 31st Baptist Church Urban Farm Is supported by Virginia Cooperative Extension, USDA, Bon Secours, and Tricycle Gardens. A high tunnel greenhouse was recently installed in the community garden via the National Resources Conservation Service cost-share program. Photo provided by Dr. Morris Henderson.
By Joyce Latimer, Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Tech
The Virginia Cooperative Extension Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems Forum opened with a powerful success story of communication and cooperation between Brittany Council and Twandra Lomax-Brown of Virginia Cooperative Extension in Richmond City and the community told by Dr. Morris Henderson, pastor of the 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond.
Dr. Henderson and his church have been feeding the hungry and homeless in their community since 1990 when the local soup kitchen closed. In 2009, Dr. Henderson had a great vision to use his church property, and members and volunteers to create a community garden that would help feed the citizens of Richmond and contribute to the eradication of food deserts in the city. The church founded the Darrel Rollins Memorial Community Garden in honor of a previous pastor at the church.
Dr. Henderson had church members with gardening experience, but he needed the depth and breadth of knowledge, technical assistance, and networking that VCE could provide to expand this community garden into a fully functional urban farm that could help address the food desert issue. Dr. Henderson approached Extension agents Council and Lomax-Brown for assistance. They connected him with Amber Morgan, 4-H youth development agent, and Joe Logan, youth family nutrition program associate, who provided individuals with information about youth programs and basic education on the selection, use, and nutrition of fresh produce. In addition, local Extension Master Gardeners provided basic educational resources such as soil sample kits and growing guidance and assistance, and worked with the Mayor’s Conservation Corps Youth summer interns to begin the actual work of forming of the community garden on the church property.