Coalition seeks to promote local food system sustainability

Posted by Heifer Sonoma/Napa On Friday, March 09, 2012

By Linda Burchette
Assistant Editor Jefferson Post

Local people growing and selling their own food products, improving the environment and helping low-income residents eat better are the goals of Seeds of Change Appalachia Coalition.

An organizational meeting in January led to a follow-up meeting in February at Family Central in Jefferson to bring all the various aspects of this initiative together.

Led by Lauri Wilson, program director for Seeds of Change, and Jeffrey Scott with Heifer USA, the meeting last month resulted in a vision for the project and ideas from the group to make it happen.

Seeds of Change has collected about 100 participants so far, said Wilson, and they come from Ashe, Watauga, Wilkes and Alleghany counties in North Carolina and Johnson County in Tennessee. The first meeting organized the coalition and included discussion on the meaning of the project, she said, and the second meeting was designed to build on that and note key dates for the coalition to reach certain goals.

By June 15 of this year, the coalition needs to have a governance framework outlining the plan for finalization of the governance rules reviewed by someone knowledgeable about board governance building, and then submitted, Wilson said. The governance rules must be approved, and a comprehensive project proposal framework should be completed by Aug. 31.

The meetings are about sowing the seeds of change.

“As the High Country of Appalachia transitions toward a self-reliant future, food plays a significant role in shaping our regional economy,” it was written on the Seeds of Change meeting agenda.

“The costs of purchasing produced and processed food from other states or countries is a major concern of communities across the U.S. while, conversely, local food development can act as an economic driver for entrepreneurship and local job creation. Communities across the U.S. are building coalitions of diverse stakeholders who see the benefit of turning food supply chains into local food chains, thus creating a multitude of opportunities for residents and businesses. Just as the economic benefits of a local food system are manifold, so are the public health benefits of eating fresh, locally produced foods from your own region. The opportunities for connecting economic development and public health are considerable in creating new economies of health and wealth for all,” read the agenda.

Heifer USA is matching funds the coalition can raise, Wilson said, adding that Heifer USA expects the coalition to come together in a solid organization with leadership and goals, and the framework must be in place by June 15.

A matching goal of $250,000 is not difficult, Wilson said, “but we must have a plan in place. Long term sustainability over many years needs to be developed.”

Leslie Schaller with the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks provided an overview on solution-based assessments, showcasing models that communities across the nation are developing in order to implement proactive economic development strategies and innovative public policies.

She described a value chain in this process as adding value to a supply chain. “Finding your place in the value chain is key,” she said. “You must share values or it just remains a supply chain.”

“Farmers markets are often the first step to a value chain in a community that nurtures the entrepreneurs,” she said. “Direct sales are often the first step to small business.”

Other parts of the value chain, Schaller said, include community gardens, edible schoolyard projects and food processors.

“There are opportunities and challenges in Appalachia, and this will not happen overnight,” said Scott. It will take a while to build regional food systems tied into health, public education, and non-profits, he said.

Scott said Heifer USA expects to spend about $1.5 million in the High Country over the next four years working toward these goals.

“I know it’s going to take a long time, so we want to set the table for a long term relationship with the community,” Scott said. “Heifer USA is a piece of the bigger picture taking place in the area. It is a springboard to build a stronger coalition, much bigger than just Heifer USA. We want to see the forest before we get caught up in the trees.”

“The local food movement emerging in the country will happen even without Heifer USA,” Scott said.

The goals are to generate food income possibilities, improve the environment and nutrition, he said. To do that, the coalition must first organize and establish a leadership structure for moving forward.

That is exactly what the coalition’s meetings are all about, and Wilson encouraged those attending the February meeting to voice their opinions and commit to long term involvement.

“Heifer USA has provided the seed, but the coalition will take the seed and make it grow,” she said.

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