Filed under: Food, Health, Travels, University of North Carolina | Tags: Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Come to the Table, Dr. Molly De Marco, Harvest of Hope, RAFI
For the past eight months, Dr. Molly De Marco, Project Director and Research Fellow at The Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, has led Harvest of Hope, a community based participatory research project exploring the impacts of a church garden on food knowledge, health and diet. To read more about the project itself, read this past blog when we had just started collecting baseline data.
Below, Dr. De Marco updates us on the RAFI Come to the Table Conference she and the Harvest of Hope project participants attended.
On the last Saturday in February, 14 Harvest of Hope participants (4 adults including our Community Director, Rev. Bill Kearney and 10 youth) met our research assistant, Meredith Robbins, and myself in Kenansville, NC for RAFI’s biannual ‘Come to the Table’ Conference. We first heard Dr. Norman Wirzba, Duke Research Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life discuss food and faith. Dr. Wirzba highlighted the creation story in the Book of Genesis Chapter II. In this text, God is likened to a Gardener who formed us from the dust of the earth. Wirzba went on to talk about our relationship to food saying “Eating is not just about getting fuel, but a way we can commune with each other and the land and God as the life within all of that life.” He went on to say that “Eating can become a sacramental act. Food isn’t a commodity, but something to be cherished.” Read more about Dr. Norman Wirzba and his message here.
Our Harvest of Hope team then went to tour the Eastern Carolina Food Ventures Community Kitchen Incubator in Warsaw, NC, a partnership between Duplin County and James Sprunt Community College. The adults had lots of questions about what can be produced, how bottling is done, and the cost to use the space. The youth were most excited to see how long they could last in the walk-in freezers and coolers
Last, we traveled from Duplin County to rural Lenoir County (close to Snow Hill, NC) to assist with a garden workday with Mothers without Borders, a group of 17 farmworker families who are joining together to grow food so that they have enough food for the offseason (winter). Mothers without Borders is also working to market their produce to raise enough money so that their children do not have to work in the fields, but can go to school. We met with adult and youth farmworkers.
Harvest of Hope youth were instructed by farmworker youth to turn the soil to make a large patch for potatoes, to plant seeds (shown in the photos below), and to prepare a bed of compost for the planting of lettuce. Our youth didn’t want to leave when it came time to go.
Filed under: Health, Media | Tags: Carolina Campus Community Garden, News & Observer
Check out this great article in The News and Observer about The Carolina Campus Community Garden. It’s inspirational to see the work that they are doing in providing free healthy, fresh produce to some of the UNC workforce.
Filed under: Food, Health, Travels, University of North Carolina | Tags: Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church, Dr. Molly DeMarco, Harvest of Hope, Rev. William Kearney, University of North Carolina
One of my favorite things about research is that it allows you to be part of a world that’s quite different than your own. Like Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenton, North Carolina, where Dr. Molly De Marco, a researcher at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and a team of UNC researchers are conducting research about how gardening can influence food knowledge, health and diet. In collaboration with Rev. William Kearney, who leads The Coley Springs Baptist Church, and fifty parish members, the project will entail a 10-month gardening program. The group will build a garden on their church land and will take part in cooking classes using their garden harvests. With many of the older members already knowledgeable about growing food, gardening skills will be taught from within their community, especially to the less experienced youth.
The name of the project is “Harvest of Hope” and it’s another project that I’m happy to be a part of. Last week we headed out to Warrenton to collect data before the parish broke ground to start the garden. As we pulled up to the church, Reverend Kearney gave us a warm welcome. In casual shorts and a baseball cap, he exuded energy and friendliness. He showed us around the sunny church, cheerfully decorated with flowers throughout and lined with photographs of their church members. Outside, the land was beautiful, with old oak trees towering amidst deep green fields. It was completely quiet, and as I walked up the hill to where the garden would be, the pastoral land surrounded me completely. The church owns fifty stunning acres of this land and Rev. Kearney told us how eager the parish was to start a garden on a part of it, “We’ve been talking about doing something with it for a long time, so everyone is very excited.”
Soon, the UNC Health on Wheels van showed up and started getting ready to take people’s weight, height and blood pressure. A traveling van that did such a thing? I never knew it existed! I had to take a peek inside to satiate my curiosity. One of the registered nurses with the van told me that they did this kind of thing all of the time, “It’s great…we get to go directly to the communities.”
Members of the parish started trickling into the church to fill out surveys on food knowledge and diet. Dr. DeMarco has worked with this community before, and as she checked people in, greeting them with hugs and updates on how she was, it was clear that she wasn’t a researcher in their eyes, but a friend who was part of the community. As more people came, the room filled up with people bent over their surveys, answering questions. A group of teenage boys shouted out identifications of vegetables, “Onion?” “No, I know, radish!” I worked with a man helping him answer questions about his diet. Outside, people lined up for the health van. Members of the parish will do all of this again in 10 months, and in this way we hope to explore if gardening has had an impact on their food knowledge, health and diet.
As I left the survey room to take a quick break, I paused outside of the church sanctuary to listen to the men’s evening choir practice. Their joyful voices filled the empty space, and some of them waved at me when they saw me watching. I mimicked applause and went back downstairs.
When the surveys finished up and we got ready to leave, I chatted with Rev. Kearney about the direction he is taking his church in. “People usually think of church happening on just one day, inside here. But we’re trying to do different things, go outside, have afterschool activities for kids like weightlifting, so it becomes a real community.” We look forward to the garden helping to build this community, and I hope I get a chance to see its bountiful harvest and the people who have grown it sometime soon.
Filed under: Essay, Farmers Market, Food, Health, Sustainable Agriculture | Tags: Anna Lappe, Carrboro Farmers Program, Diet For a Hot Planet, Farm to Fork Picnic, Flyleaf Books, SNAP
You know you’re really passionate about your work when you spend most of your free time involved in it. Like this weekend – it was incredibly busy, full of food related events and to put it simply, a lot of fun.
It was kicked off with Anna Lappe’s reading at the relatively new Flyleaf Bookstore (a wonderful, independent bookstore in Chapel Hill) on Friday night. She was promoting her new book, A Diet for a Hot Planet which explores the effects of agriculture on climate change. Through her extensive research, her book shows that global industrial agriculture, specifically the use of hazardous chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, biotech crops, and processed foods, is impoverishing the land, destroying rain forests, polluting waterways, and emitting nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.
Though climate change is depressing, Lappe stressed that her book is “a sandwich lined with hope smear.” People are already changing the food system through a grassroots movement, which can be seen in the increase of farmers markets, community gardens and CSA shares. With this hopeful new movement, Lappe said, climate change “is not a dead end issue, we can turn it around….nature is resilient.” The book also features several case studies on what large food companies are doing to “go green.” According to Lappe, they’re not doing much (McDonald’s big green initiative – including endangered species toys in their happy meals) and found that much of their green and sustainable talk was nothing but “spin.”
One member of the audience raised the issue of food prices: “If our industrial agricultural food system changed to center around smaller scale, organic farming, what would the cost be to the consumer?” Lappe’s answer to deal with this issue was to “flip the current system of subsidies on its head,” so “instead of subsidizing commodity crops such as corn and grain that end up feeding the cattle we eat, subsidize small scale, organic farming” to make this food more accessible to all consumers.
After an evening focused on sustainable food issues on Friday, I continued the theme the next day by promoting a consumer supported fishery project that I’ve been helping to launch at the Carrboro Farmers Market. Despite the cloudy weather, the market was bright, full of vivid purple, yellow and red blooms in the beautiful flower displays that lined nearly every table. The ripe juicy red of strawberries didn’t hurt either. And the produce wasn’t the only exciting part – I was happy to see the new SNAP program going well too – a positive step in helping food stamp recipients get access to fresh, healthy and local foods.
And yesterday, I volunteered at the kid’s tent at the Farm to Fork picnic. The event was held at Breeze Farm, which serves as an incubator for beginning farmers. The event raised $20,000 for the incubator program – which allows new farmers to grow food without having to own land themselves. A dynamite list of restaurants was paired with an equally striking list of farms and each pairing came up with their own dish. After face painting and making crafts with the kids, I attempted to eat my way through the event, visiting more than 40 food stands.
The picnic was an amazing, celebratory event but I couldn’t help but think of that persistent question about price again. At sixty dollars a head for the event, only people who could afford it could attend. Of course, this was a fundraising event, but it would be neat to hold an event with local, delicious food that might be more available to people of a lesser income…perhaps my next project?
And to fill you in on the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, we’re going to start surveying at the farmers markets once again. This time to research consumer behavior, which will explore why people shop at farmers markets. So if you’re headed to the Carrboro Market on Saturday, take a moment to stop and answer our quick survey questions. We look forward to hearing from you! I’m sure it will be another weekend full of fun, food happenings.
“It just seemed to me.. that [a store] would be something that people could rally around, be proud of, enjoy walking to if they need groceries and bring that community effort together where you have a true neighborhood”
-Excerpt from Herald Sun “TROSA Grocery Opens” article
If you haven’t seen it yet, I thought folks might be interested in reading this article, printed in The Herald Sun, about the new TROSA grocery store opening in a part of Durham which lacks access to stores that sell a wide variety of foods and other items. The store is located in a renovated 1930s building and their produce, milk and meat is all from North Carolina! The canned goods are made by workers from the nonprofit Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers. It seems like an amazing business venture that intersects community economic development, social work, public health and convenience! I look forward to visiting the store myself.
Have a good weekend,
Filed under: Farmers Market, Food, Health, Media, Travels, Uncategorized | Tags: Austin Farmers Market, Carrboro Farmers Market, Hollywood Farmers Market, Lakewood Elementary, Piedmont Farm Tour
It’s been a while now since I’ve posted to the blog, but there has been much going on that hasn’t involved my computer as of late.
First of all, the garden I manage at Lakewood Elementary School in Durham is in full bloom and for the past couple of weeks the kids and I have been harvesting the fresh veggies and cooking together.
One of my proudest moments was when a group of fifth graders ate a whole pan of collard greens after telling me they absolutely did not like them in any way, shape or form. They decidedly stated they were delicious and that they had changed their minds. The secret? (Jamie Oliver take note) Involving kids in the process of growing and cooking vegetables gives them a sense of ownership over their food, which I find helps them to enjoy eating previously thought scary vegetables.
Secondly, I had the amazing opportunity to take a trip out west to both Los Angeles and Austin. The best part? Exploring both cities’ local food scene. Though I enjoy the seasonality of foods in our state, it was fun to visit the Hollywood Farmers Market in LA where everything seemed to be joyously in season at the same time. I meandered through 150 vendors selling mostly certified organic, beautiful displays of avocados, mushrooms, citrus, tomatoes, grapes and more. They had meat and seafood as well – my favorite was the farm-raised oysters that they sold on the half shell.
Also of note was a Registered Dietician who is hired by the city to hand out healthy snacks she’s made with local ingredients along with the accompanied recipe.
Unlike our local and famed Carrboro Farmers Market, the market did not have any rules about the number of miles farmers were traveling to come sell. One woman involved with the market told me that most farmers come from surrounding counties in Southern California. Also a difference – the farmer was not required to be there to sell. Though the same person told me this was to be fair to the farmer, this way farmers could hit multiple markets in the same day by hiring others to sell for them, I am still grateful for this rule at the Carrboro market where you can be sure you’re talking to the grower when you’re buying your food.
The rules at the Austin Farmers Market (organized by an amazing non-profit, The Sustainable Food Center) seemed more like our own, with the producer required to be there to sell and a maximum number of miles allowed for travel to market. I found this sign about the Texas growing season interesting (sorry for the text cut off).
They had a beautiful abundance of greens, eggs, meat, seafood and even locally made kombucha!
Both markets accepted EBT (food stamp) benefits, which I’m excited to hear that the Carrboro market will be doing starting May 1st! (Check back to read more…)
It’s nice to be home after my travels and yesterday I was reminded again of how wonderful our own local foodshed is with a feature article in the New York Times. And then a whole weekend to tour our neighboring farms with the 15th annual Piedmont Farm Tour! There’s certainly a lot going on and we’ll do our best to keep you updated on The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project as well as other related news and events as we head into this busy harvest season.
Filed under: Food, Health, Media | Tags: Antibiotic Resistance, New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, Smithfield
I’ve been busy this week with Gillings Sustainable Agriculture project work and with my other very part-time job, gardening at a local elementary school with kids. I thought we’d never be able to plant with all the erratic weather we’ve been having, but finally the seeds are in the ground! Now the fun tasks of weeding and watering will be filling my early evenings and weekends. As we head into the spring, I’ll be working with the kids in the garden more, and will keep you posted on all that I learn. So no post on research this week, but I wanted to share a very alarming story in which North Carolina unfortunately played a role.
On Monday, a friend emailed me an article in The New York Times about the growing resistance to antibiotics. The first few paragraphs summarized an issue I had heard about before – doctors have recognized an increasing number of superbugs that are impervious to antibiotics and researchers have linked this resistance to modern agribusiness’ overuse of antibiotics to feed healthy livestock. But when I got to the middle of the story and read this paragraph, I was shocked.
“More antibiotics are fed to livestock in North Carolina alone than are given to humans in the entire United States, according to the peer-reviewed Medical Clinics of North America.”
I did some research to find the study he was referring to, and after some navigating tracked it down. This study on antimicrobial-resistant infections, cites another study to come up with this sad statistic for our state which is also shared by Iowa (they take second place).
The New York Times article also cited that the feeding of antibiotics to healthy animals now comprises 70% of total antibiotic use, compared to 16% of use to treat humans and their pets. Agribusiness argues that the agricultural use of antibiotics produces cheaper meat, but at what cost to public health?? There is some good news – with the growing public interest in where food is coming from, it seems as if the issue is getting more media attention. Below, view part one of Katie Couric’s CBS Evening News report on antibiotic use in livestock.
Filed under: Education, Food, Health, University of North Carolina | Tags: Alice Ammerman, Cyclone Games, Local Food in Schools, Physical Activity, Smith Middle School
It had been a long time since I last found myself in a middle school, and as I pushed my way through the glass doors into Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill my pre-adolescent memories suddenly swirled back to me – the excitement and stress of dances, trying desperately to open my locker (I was always forgetting the combo), trapper keepers, middle school plays, basketball games, the list could go on and on. I went to middle school in Tokyo, but walking down the halls of this middle school here in the Triangle, I found it felt very similar to my own.
Though this trip down memory lane was nice, I was really here to help with the 3rd annual Cyclone Games – an event sponsored by the booster club and organized and supported by Dr. Alice Ammerman and several UNC graduate students. The event started a few years ago when the scoreboards in the gym needed replacing. Instead of traditional fundraising activities, the parents decided to hold an event that would bring together families, teachers and students while promoting physical activity.
As in the past, this year’s games turned the gym into a sort of Olympic stage where different games took turns as the feature presentation, with teachers playing against students. An announcer provided the running commentary on volleyball matches, relay races, scooter basketball and other traditional and non-traditional games alike. Admission fees were charged for the event and this money helps raise the funds necessary to continue to promote healthy physical activity at Smith Middle.
Local food played a part too! Graduate students made pizzas with local sausage from ECO farm as well as a steamed cabbage slaw from Lyon Farms and helped dole out food to a long line of hungry students once the games finished. (They served an impressive amount of people quickly – 140 people in fifteen minutes!) The kids loved the meal with many braving veggie topped pizzas and the cabbage slaw. We hope that families were inspired to seek out these farms in the future to enjoy similar kinds of locally grown and raised products in their own households.
It was a fun event to be a part of, and with memories of how hard the pre-teen years can be (in Tokyo, Chapel Hill or elsewhere), it was especially great to see the kids just letting loose and having a good time. Many thanks to May May Leung for leading the volunteers and Smith Middle’s cafeteria staff for allowing us to come in to prepare food for the games! Follow this link to read about the event in The Chapel Hill News. Posted by Anna.
Filed under: Food, Health, Politics, Sustainable Agriculture | Tags: Alice Ammerman, NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council
Last Tuesday, the newly established North Carolina Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council held its first meeting. There are twenty-six seats on the statewide council, twenty-four of these appointees were able to attend the long awaited inaugural meeting held in front of a packed audience with standing room only.
The concept of creating a statewide council was identified as a priority during the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) Farm-to-Fork Initiative, “Building a Local Food Economy in North Carolina.” Many constituent groups worked cooperatively with legislators to draft the proposed legislation that ultimately resulted in the establishment of this council during the most recent legislative session.
The meeting was open to the public (as all subsequent meetings will be) and it was incredible to see the amount of interest and support for the council. The meeting began with each of the council members providing a short introduction and a summary of their work and interest in local food. State government was represented with the Commissioner of Agriculture (Steve Troxler), the State Health Director (Dr. Jeferey Engel) and Secretary of Commerce (Keith Crisco) There were farmers from a more conventional agriculture background, like Tommy Porter of Porter Farms, who raises chickens under a contract with Tyson, along with farmers who raise animals using alternative methods, such as Jamie Ager from Hickory Nut Gap Farm who raises pastured chickens. A butcher/brewer/sausage maker, Uli Bennewitz, holds a seat as well. Leaders from the commercial fishing industry, the NC Farm Bureau Federation, Child Nutrition Services and NC Cooperative Extension Services were also present. Roland McReynolds, Executive Director of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and Nancy Creamer, Co-Director of CEFS, hold seats on the council. There was a lawyer, Dania Davy from Land Loss Prevention Project and a medical doctor, Jeffrey Engel, the State Health Director. Our very own Principal Investigator of the Gillings project, Dr. Alice Ammerman, sits on the council as well. It was an amazingly diverse group of professionals. A quote from a recent piece by Tom Laskawy, blog writer for Grist, reflects on the positive aspects of diversity when establishing the make up of food policy councils,
“By their nature, food policy councils are designed to circumvent the parochial interests and often ‘captured’ status of regulatory agencies. By making people who don’t normally talk sit together and consider the broader impact of their policies, food policy councils have the potential to keep special interests from dominating policy debates.”
After introductions of members, Richard Reich, Assistant Commissioner for Agricultural Services, provided a summary of the history of food policy councils. Though many food policy councils have been initiated since the first one was established 28 years ago in 1982 in Knoxville, Tennessee, not all have succeeded. In fact, a previous food policy council existed in North Carolina from 2001 to 2003 and met with a less than desirable ending. Reich urged members to take their jobs seriously and “to maintain balance and credibility.” John Volmer, a leader in practicing sustainable growing methods in North Carolina and owner of Volmer Farm, spoke next. Commenting on the palpable energy in the room he started, “I was going to give you a pep talk but I don’t think you need one. I can feel the pep already!” Despite this, Volmer gave an inspiring “pep” talk on the possibilities of local food systems, using Vermont as an example of a state that has built a strong local food shed, even with a much shorter growing season than North Carolina.
Once the initial introductions were done and opening speeches were given, council member Mr. Billy Ray Hall, Representative of the NC Rural Economic Development Center, nominated Commissioner Troxler as Chair of the Council with Crisco seconding. Troxler accepted the nomination and when asked how he would be represent such a diverse membership through an individual leadership, he told council members that he considered the chair a unifying force, one that would ensure support and seek out input from everybody. He was unanimously voted in and shortly thereafter, he requested that a motion be accepted to vote in a Vice Chair to help him create structure within the council to ensure diverse leadership. Sustainable crop and animal producer, Mary James, nominated Nancy Creamer as Vice Chair. The nomination was quickly seconded and Nancy was unanimously voted in.
It was an exciting day for agriculture in North Carolina – the first meeting of the council demonstrated true recognition of local and sustainable food on the state level. The council now has much important work ahead of them and must take significant steps towards advising state government on ways to build upon and strengthen North Carolina’s local food system. The council will meet no less than four times a year and, according to statute will have an annual report due with their recommendations on October 1st. To see a full list of council members and learn more about the council, follow this link.
Filed under: Food, Health, Media | Tags: Carrboro Farmers Market, Community Food Security, Julie Guthman, TABLE, UNC Garden
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that took a close look at how the recession has reshaped the job market. For the most part, “reshaped” was used as a euphemism for jobs lost, with professions in construction, trade, transportation, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality all posting tremendous cutbacks. There were a few areas however, that posted an increase in jobs, even in this dire economy. And one of these areas had to do with food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “community food and shelter” jobs are one of the top rapidly expanding job fields in the country. Professions in this area provide crucial community food security at a time when many have lost their jobs and aren’t able to put food on the table. Community food jobs entail helping identify new sources of food and securing donations for the hungry. It’s hard to overlook the fact that the increase in these jobs portrays the alarming public need. It’s going to take resourceful people and innovative solutions to make a difference.
According to the USDA’s annual report on food insecurity, 1 in 7 families in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2008. The situation demands more solutions – and an increase in people working to fight hunger is an important first step. Though more traditional programs like food can drives have a place in securing donations for the hungry, food security programs must challenge themselves to think creatively in order to help feed people in a healthy and sustainable way. Many are donating less now than before as they too are working on a tight budget. Often times, the canned food that is donated is high in sodium and high-fructose corn syrup, and can contribute to diet-related diseases. Too many solutions, as Julie Guthman, Assoc. Professor at UC Santa Cruz wrote recently, reflect the limits of food charity when people in need get what others wouldn’t eat themselves – unhealthy and highly processed canned food. Or, as Gutham writes, “the dregs.”
In our community here in the Triangle, there are a number of programs that take creative approaches to securing healthy food for people in need. At the Carrboro Farmers Market for instance, 4,364 pounds of fresh food were donated by farmers and customers alike from late May through the end of 2009 through a program called The Farmer FoodShare. This program cooperates with other local groups like the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services’ FoodFirst initiative and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. According to Margaret Gifford, FoodShare founder and organizer, they hope to continue to grow this FoodShare program at the Carrboro Market and expand to other interested markets. She stresses that partnering with others working to create food safety nets is essential, “We value the cooperative nature of our local community and find that by focusing on getting the best fresh fruits and vegetables we can for people in food insecure households means that we can make a greater impact in people’s lives and on their overall health.”
In this immediate community, we also have non-profit organizations like TABLE, which runs a program where backpacks filled with food are delivered to children at their school to take home over the weekend.
The economic situation spurred a new project at UNC this year to assist its employees hit hard by the budget crisis – a cooperative garden. Fresh fruits and vegetables will be grown for the schools’ faculty, students and staff. The garden came out of a discussion in which UNC staff (custodians, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, and others) expressed concerns about some people not being able to afford fresh, healthy food. The garden project is being led by volunteer, Claire Lorch, and she welcomes more people to get involved and join the organizing committee. The programming for the garden is being finalized and will likely offer a combination of individual garden plots as well as a cooperative growing area that will allow UNC employees to exchange work (planting, weeding, watering, etc) for foods grown. The vision of the garden is that it will do more than just provide fresh produce – it hopes to serve as a place where faculty, students and staff can connect with each other.
These few examples described above are just some of the innovative ways people are working, in both paid and volunteer capacities, to address hunger issues in our community. If you’re interested in learning more about these programs or in volunteering, please follow the links. It’s sometimes easy for me to get caught up in the day to day activities of local food system research, but it’s important to remind myself that there are folks living nearby that don’t have enough money to buy food for dinner, no matter where that food is coming from.