The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council has first meeting!
The audience packed in for the Council's first meeting

The audience packed in for the Council's first meeting

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,

Dr. Alice Ammerman introduces herself

Dr. Alice Ammerman introduces herself

“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.

Council Members

Council Members

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