Food Summit, other projects model how campus and community can work together

The annual Food Summit sponsored by Appalachian State University and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture is billed as a gathering of scholars, farmers and food lovers.

The 2016 event brought together people interested in food insecurity and agrobiodiversity conservation. The discussions that came about resulted in two seed libraries in Ashe and Watauga counties that are preserving heritage seeds, and a food pantry at Appalachian, said Dr. Jacqui Ignatova, event co-organizer and a faculty member in the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development.

“The Food Summit brought people together to have conversations about how to protect our abundant agrobiodiversity and how to address food insecurity within our broader community,” she said. “It helped model what type of work can happen when the right people come together.”

She said she expects similar conversations from the 2017 Food Summit: Dynamic Traditions, Resourceful Communities, which took place Saturday, Oct. 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There were sessions on food waste and recovery, Appalachian foodways and community composting.

Dr. Jessica Martell, a visiting faculty member in Appalachian’s Department of English and a co-organizer of the 2017 Food Summit, said that Appalachian’s reputation helps amplify its message on issues the university cares about.

“Appalachian is a leader in Appalachian studies. What Appalachian does, people notice,” she said. “Boone is relatively small, and the campus provides tremendous resources in terms of funding and labor to make collaborative events happen.”

This year’s Food Summit was sponsored by Appalachian’s College of Fine and Applied Arts, Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics (RIEEE), Department of Sustainable Development, Center for Appalachian Studies, Department of English, and Office of Sustainability, as well as Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture.

Other university/community collaborations are also making an impact in the area of food insecurity and agriculture:

AppalFRESH

The Appalachian Food Research for Equity, Sustainability and Health Collaborative (AppalFRESH) gathers people on campus with a variety of viewpoints around the topic of food.

AppalFRESH got its start in 2015 and bills itself as a transdisciplinary group of faculty, staff and graduate students who share an interest in socially, economically and ecologically viable food systems.

“Although Appalachian doesn’t have a food science program, there are many people on campus who are doing sustainable food research and outreach. We thought, there has to be a benefit in bringing us together to talk about these critical issues from our varied perspectives,” said Carla Ramsdell, a senior lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and member of AppalFRESH.

The group sponsored a Community FEaST (Food Engagement and Story Telling) in October, which featured a 100-yard continuous table and a meal of locally sourced baked potatoes and apple pies. People were encouraged to bring their own plates and utensils, with 450 people attending from Appalachian and the community.

The event was held to highlight local food, demonstrate how to minimize waste from such events and encourage conversation and storytelling around food.

With the help of the Office of Sustainability, 94 percent of the waste generated from Community FEaST was diverted to recycling or composting. 

Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA)

Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA), a local nonprofit that supports women farmers and was Appalachian’s co-sponsor of the two food summits, grew out of a graduate seminar in the Department of Anthropology and Appalachian studies program that was taught by Dr. Patricia Beaver in 2002.

Beaver, now retired, said she asked students to study the dynamics of communities in the area. The students became interested in the women who were farming, but felt they were somewhat isolated and needed more support.

The class developed a proposal for BRWIA and submitted it to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, which agreed to fund the project. Beaver and several of her students became founding board members and helped the organization gain 501(c)(3) status.

“We were very excited to create this organization and let it become independent of the university after the grant period ended,” Beaver said. “It’s been very exciting to see its maturation and diversification.”

Martell and Ignatova both serve on BRWIA’s executive board, continuing the tradition of university support.

“BRWIA is changing the local food system,” Martell said. “It’s changing our expectations of what normal food is.”

High Country Food Hub

High Country Food Hub is an online farmers market that sells locally and regionally produced food that’s left over from farmers markets. The hub is a partnership between BRWIA and the Watauga County Cooperative Extension, which provided space to store the produce, Martell said.

BRWIA’s Double Bucks program allows people who receive food assistance to double the value of that help up to $40 when they buy food at the Boone Summer Farmers’ Market. The program is funded through grants and is changing the quality of food available to poor people, Martell said.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

Sponsored annually by Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT), this awareness and service event has been a longtime program for Appalachian students. It recognizes National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and will be held this year from Nov. 11-19.

This event is getting revamped as students’ focuses shift. Read more

Food Services’ food recovery program

Appalachian Food Services and the Hunger and Health Coalition are long-standing partners in an award-winning food recovery program that resulted in the donation of 13,264 meals for the coalition’s clients and their families from 2016-17.

Food Services also purchases local food when possible — with 21.3 percent of its purchases being local in 2016-17, a 20 percent increase over the previous year.

F.A.R.M. Cafe (Feed All Regardless of Means)

The founders of this nonprofit, pay-what-you-can restaurant in downtown Boone included Appalachian alumni and staff. Its start-up was supported by student volunteers and service-learning classes.  

Adjunct faculty member Rev. Dr. Chris May was founding board vice president; sociology professor Dr. Beth Davison serves as chair of its board of directors; and library specialist Adam Sheffield created a documentary on F.A.R.M. Cafe.

Looking ahead

Ignatova said that the momentum created by what’s already happened through Appalachian will likely fuel more discussions, projects and collaborations.

“What’s happening here can be a great model for other small communities,” Ignatova said. “Events such as the Food Summit and Community FEaST create space so that people concerned with sustainable food can get together and talk about how to strengthen our local food system through collaborative action.”

FEAST TableThe Community FEaST (Food Engagement and Story Telling) held Oct. 3 is an example of Appalachian's engagement around the issue of food insecurity. The event on Sanford Mall drew nearly 500 people and featured a 100-yard-long table with locally sourced food. Photo by Dr. Jeff Ramsdell