Appalachian District Health Department: The Watauga Food Council is making big picture impacts, in the spring of 2016, by working collectively to identify community resources and initiate partnerships. With the goal of supporting healthy eating and food systems, The Community Health Team with the Appalachian District Health Department recently identified available funding that was distributed to purchase food dehydrators, a vacuum sealer, and food processor. Excess produce from farms and stores that would be composted or fed to pigs will be dehydrated or frozen at the FARM Café's commercial kitchen, then stored at the newly established High Country Food Hub's freezer for later distribution to low-income residents. Food dehydration classes will also be offered in the future to the public as a part of this initiative. Impacted organizations include: Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, F.A.R.M. Cafe, Hospitality House of Boone, Hunger & Health Coalition, Watauga County Farmers' Market, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, and local food pantries.
High Country Food Hub: The Watauga Food Council helped secure bi-partisan, town-county support for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture's new High Country Food Hub, which is a central storage facility for locally-grown food. In February, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners approved 1,400 square feet of the Watauga County Agricultural Services Center to be transformed into freezers, refrigerators and dry food storage space. After securing a location, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture found financial support from Heifer USA, the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program, and Carolina Farm Credit to renovate the space and buy a commercial freezer and cooler. Freezer space quickly filled to capacity with local farmers' products. The Watauga Food Council engaged the Town of Boone's Sustainability Committee about available funding to purchase a new freezer. The Food Council also helped frame the economic benefits that the Food Hub shares with Boone's restaurants and citizens, as well as the social impact of the Food Hub, serving food pantries. On September 15th, 2016, the Town of Boone approved $16,500 for a new freezer at the Food Hub. This advocacy work goes a long way toward helping the Food Hub open new markets for our community’s farmers and serving as a collection site for vegetables grown in community gardens, before they are distributed at local food pantries.
Data Sharing Party: As a strategy to strengthen Food Council membership and see where we've come and where we need to work to build a more secure local food system, the Watauga Food Council hosted a Data Sharing Party on Tuesday, October 11th, 2016. The goals of the project were to:
- Put on a project as a group.
- Put on an event that would encourage new individuals/organizations to become engaged in the Watauga Food Council.
- Better understand our local food system.
Organizations and community members were invited to network and learn about what others are doing around local food. The Food Council posed several questions (asked of everyone and specific to each organization) within the event's invitation.
Here are some BIG questions we have (please answer as you’re able to):
- What impact does your agency/or you have on food access and security?
- How do you promote our local food system and healthy foods?
- In what ways are we making farming a more viable career choices?
Here are some questions that might help you gather information about your work:
- What numbers do you collect that demonstrate how many or how much you reach others with your work?
- What outcome are you most proud of in your work?
- [Specific questions asked.]
As RSVPs and responses came in to the core Food Council team, we populated giant Post-it Notes, leaving room for day-of answers and "What are we missing..." blocks. Twenty-six people attended the afternoon event. For many, this was either their first Food Council event or their first since the spring. An ASU Masters of Public Administration class attended. Their questions helped spur conversations about our local food system. Here are some selected answers from the Data Sharing Party:
- Blue Ridge Conservancy has 5,300 acres of conserved, working farmland protected in the High Country.
- The Watauga Farmers' Market's attendance has peaked the 2nd-3rd week of every August for the last 3 years, dropping dramatically once school starts back.
- High Country Local First contributed $2,500, from its rewards cards, to 6 local school gardens in 2015-2016
- On average, the Hospitality House serves 12,000 meals a month on a very limited budget (donated food, food grown onsite, and bought from food banks).
Moving forward, the gathered-data will be transformed into a meaningful infographic 1-pager that can be used to better explain our local food system.
Meet the Food Council Reception: On November 3rd, 2016, the Watauga Food Council hosted a pre-dinner Reception before the 61st Annual Farm-City Banquet. Farmers, elected officials, and local-food enthusiasts met Food Council members and learned about our plans for 2017, all while eating locally-grown food and celebrating our local food system! Light hors d'oeuvres, featuring local food by Reids Catering were served.