The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

NUTR 245 Students Reflect On Their Semester Service-Learning Placements
May 24, 2012, 7:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

From volunteering at Farmer Foodshare to Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Nutrition 245 students participated in eye-opening, service-learning ventures this Spring semester.

NUTR 245 Sustainable, Local Food Systems, an APPLES service-learning course, examines the health, economic and environmental impacts of our current food system. Throughout the semester, the class learned about current efforts to build a more local, equitable and sustainable food system.

While assisting their community placements to increase access to healthy food among lower income populations, students gained insight into shopping habits and food in general. In addition, students helped to increase economic opportunities for small and mid-sized farmers and food entrepreneurs.

The service-learning has proven to inspire many of the students to become involved with efforts to promote local, sustainable food systems and increase food access.

“I hope to get involved with some kind of internship or program where I can improve food options for people, particularly people with the most need who may not have access to the knowledge, funds and social networks like me that have helped teach me so much,” stated a NUTR 245 student.

“After spending time at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, I am much more likely to advocate for the market and to shop at farmer’s markets myself,” stated another student. “They are certainly valuable resources for communities, as they can promote the local economy and provide local consumers with access to the freshest produce.”

At the end of the course, the students completed fact sheets and annotated bibliographies on topics ranging from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to school cafeteria lunches. Read more about the fact sheets, along with annotated bibliographies, here


TROSA Grocery store in Durham opens
May 14, 2010, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Food, Health, Media, Uncategorized

“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,


Garden Happenings and Travels to Farmers Markets

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.

Getting the collards chopped up

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.

A student sautes them with garlic

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.

Happily looking at my oyster

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).

Sign at the Austin farmers market

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.

What Can a Chef Bring to the Table?
March 29, 2010, 3:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Many people involved in food system reform also subscribe to the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Food Policy Comfood listserve. So when the well-known British chef, Jamie Oliver premiered Food Revolution, the listserve was alive and well, hotly debating why Oliver’s approach objectified the citizens of Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington is not just any town. It is the ‘obesity capital of the world’, according to expert nutritionist Marion Nestle. Oliver went, TV crew in hand, to document how he will reform the town’s school lunch program.

Many of the emails that zipped back and forth on the listserve after the show aired, mentioned their disappointment with Oliver’s “paternalistic” or threatening approach. Oliver repeatedly calls food service workers “lunch ladies” and “luv for example.” I agree that his approach might be taken as aggressive, but he’s a savvy businessman, a public relations maven and a showman at heart. But you can tell he is undoubtedly passionate about food and about developing healthy eating habits. Oliver about starts to cry when one of the service workers asks him for documentation to prove that children in the UK use forks and knives at school. Oliver protests:  “You teach your kids to read, you teach your kids to write, but you won’t teach them to eat with a fork and knife? It’s not a class thing, it’s not a proper British thing, it’s basically saying there’s no place for real food in this school.”

As a chef, Oliver understands the importance of meal preparation, that it matters that we use a fork and knife and sit down to eat—because when we do so we gain respect for what we are eating, for ourselves, and generally  make better tasting food.

Folks at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at UNC are working on a number of farm to school initiatives, helping area school systems source local food, linking local growers and child nutrition directors, and evaluating the National Farm to School Network. After nearly two years in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, I’ve taken aback by the authentically sown linkages between public health, local food, and our fine area restauranteurs and chefs, many of which hold much influence over how people think about what they eat.

Certainly, Jamie Oliver will not single-handedly create a food revolution (there have been many people working tirelessly to improve US school lunch programs for years), but his show will pay off enormously by further bringing the topic of the obesity epidemic we are facing in our country to the public fore.


Tar Heel Guide to Restaurants and Caterers Using Local Food
Behind the Line at Acme

Behind the line at Acme

My past work as a server in restaurants undoubtedly led me to my food interests. I enjoyed playing a part in someone’s special night out, providing good service and delicious food. I liked thinking about the daily process of cooking too, with the chefs starting the morning off baking bread and simmering homemade chicken stock, and progressing into the afternoon working to piece together other elements of the menu. I remember once stopping by around midday and noticing all that was happening – short ribs braising in their own juices, sauces being whisked together from scratch, fresh fish marinating in citrus and butter being spun until it was that lovely velvety texture. And it was only noon. By the time I would walk in to get ready for service, fresh herbs were being chopped and sauces tasted for salt and pepper.

Right before we began a reservation-booked Friday night, I got a strange pleasure out of thinking about all the restaurants down the east coast, getting ready for a busy night of service. Of course there was almost always some part of the night that was a little crazy, with the line cooks feverishly glancing up at the long and ever growing list of tickets while the expo person grabbed plated dishes and finished them with sauces while bellowing out table numbers for the steaming plates to be taken to waiting patrons. Working in restaurants is hard; anyone that has done it knows. You learn a lot about food too – my vocabulary expanded to include beurre blanc sauce, veal cheek, shad roe and ramps.

So when I was told about a project to create a guide featuring restaurants and caterers that used local foods as an offshoot of my work on the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, I was perfectly pleased. I felt as if my two worlds were colliding!

The project was identified as a priority by the five deans of the health affairs of UNC. The idea was to help people related to the university work with local businesses who have taken a pledge to support local farmers and buy as much local product as possible. The most difficult part was creating the pledge – we wanted it to properly represent those restaurants who prioritize buying local product above most all other purchasing initiatives.

We floated our initial ideas by Sheila Neal of Neal’s Deli and Kevin Callaghan of Acme Food and Beverage for their feedback.  Both are owners of businesses that offer local farm products on their menus throughout the year.  Sheila and Kevin provided helpful insight into the challenges a restauranteur faces when trying to buy local product in reliable quantities in all four seasons.  Even though it can be difficult, especially in winter, they both felt it was important to do their best in order to offer the freshest product available to their customers and to support area farmers.  We asked farmers for their feedback too and learned about the relationships they have with restaurants in the four counties that our guide includes.  As a result of these conversations, we expanded the guide to include information about local foods initiatives, farmers markets and consumer-supported agriculture subscriptions.

The Guide was officially released March 1 in conjunction with the Fresh Air Fresh Ideas presentation organized by the Gillings School of Global Public Health and celebrating two of the first Gillings Innovation Labs, of which the Sustainable Agriculture Project is one. We hope it will encourage UNC faculty, students and staff to consider these businesses first when thinking about their dining and catering needs.

Take a look at it here and distribute widely! Special thanks to Regina McCoy, Director of Art Services at CHAI, who did a beautiful job with the graphic layout, photography and listings.


Designing Information about Food
March 5, 2010, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Food, Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Public health practitioners are at the forefront of working with vulnerable communities on significant issues—that’s why I found it promising recently to see two students from the UNC School of Public Health in a multimedia class I’m taking at the School of Journalism. I hope the skills I gain in multimedia storytelling will allow me to partner with public health experts to most effectively communicate stories about local food systems.

I am a beginner when it comes to multimedia production, but thanks to Professor Laura Ruel, one of our School’s finest teachers in visual communication, I’m learning the basics of what makes for effective multimedia storytelling. Professor Ruel is sought out by industry powerhouses like the New York Times for her research on user behavior and eye-tracking, and the evaluation of cognitive processes as it relates to multimedia journalism.

So, what does the term multimedia really mean, and what makes for successful multimedia? Yes, it is multiple forms of media—graphics, flash, photography, video, audio—but more importantly, successful multimedia means that each medium selected tells that portion of the story best, and that each medium fits with others into one final seamless product. I’ve included a video produced by the advertising giant Ogilvy on the Canadian local food system. Let me know what you think. Do you find the graphics and multiple media to work seamlessly together? Does the Hellman’s Mayonnaise corporate sponsorship conflict with the message? Do you see any other uses for multimedia tools such as this to further public health work?

A Few Words on Infographics:

I’m finding that many talented designers are beginning to create graphics on nutrition-related topics, seasonal food charts, and food systems. Infographics are essentially visual representations of data. They can range from a basic subway map, to some of the complex 3-D interactives you find on I’ve included links to a few food related graphics that caught my attention and may be helpful to folks promoting local foods campaigns that have similar components to the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Example #1:

This example was shown in class by Professor Ruel and was praised by a lot of students because it is a fairly attractive graphic. Colorful, bright, optimistic. It shows a lot of information without overwhelming the viewer. At the same time, a student pointed out that one of the key food groups, vegetables, was shaded yellow, a color difficult to read online. I was thrown off by the misspelling of “Quince” and as a result couldn’t objectively look at this graphic. To the designer’s defense, Adobe Illustrator, the software used to create most of these graphics, does not include spell-check.

Example #2:

Disclaimer. This isn’t a graphic. It’s a photograph. I included it because it drives home the point that the visual medium can make simple points very effectively without needing words or numbers. I’m not a nutrition scientist, but I imagine one of the (many) challenges for nutritionists is to communicate the grave consequences of, in this case, excessive sugar consumption.

How much sugar is there in a small can of regular Coke? One regular can of Coca Cola contains 39 grams of sugar or 9 1/2 sugar cubes. This might not mean much when you read the words, but look at each sugar cube and my hunch is that the manner in which we process that visual information is quite different. One of the ways researchers measure effective use of media is through testing information recall between words and images. I’ll need to follow up to see if research has been conducted on information recall as it relates to food images and text.

Example #3:

Great use of color, negative space, and playful symbols. GOOD has been at the forefront of cutting edge design, but this graphic might be a piece that lends itself better to print then to an online format. In order to read any of the text or know what each fruit/vegetable symbol stands for, you need to zoom in or click F for fullscreen. And for those really wanting to know what’s in season in each of these states, one symbol for ‘Greens’ isn’t very helpful.

With so many creative infographics on nutrition and food-related topics, you could spend hours sleuthing the Internet. Informational graphics and multimedia are powerful communication tools, so let us know if you have any favorites related to sustainable agriculture and food.

Sabrina López

Southeast Youth Food Activist Summit a Success

Sabrina López here again. As I mentioned in an earlier post, UNC-CH hosted the second annual Southeast Youth Food Activist Summit February 5-7th.

Out of the summit came an incredible amount of energy that students and youth will be bringing back to campuses and communities across the Southeast with a new resolve to strengthen and build the Southern Real Food Network.

A new generation of young people recognize that food system reform is necessary–and that access to fresh, healthy food is imperative. Anna Lappé, the Summit’s keynote speaker, explained that in championing food system reform, the opposing side will call us–the Good Food Movement– anti-science, anti-aid, and elitist. The term ‘elitist’ struck me most, perhaps because it is a word that I’m coming to terms with personally as I continue to learn and work in issues related to food and nutrition both at school and at home. When I speak with many of my friends in Carrboro, many mention that local food is more expensive, and that they would purchase more local produce if they had more disposable income to spend on locally sourced food.

As Lappé pointed out at the SYFAS Summit, “what is more elitist than a food system that can only provide fresh healthy food for those that can afford it?” Last fall, The Carrboro Farmers Market teamed up with HPDP and applied for grant funding to implement an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Service so that customers can apply SNAP benefits (former Food Stamps) while shopping for produce and goods. The Carrboro Farmers Market does not currently accept SNAP benefits, but it will soon begin to do so. With all due respect to local supermarkets, I would love to see my friends use their SNAP benefits at the Carrboro Farmers Market in the near future!
More details to come on the Carrboro Farmers’ Market EBT Program.