Local Food Community: A Statewide Conversation

At each one of this year’s Come to the Table Conferences, attendees took part in facilitated discussions about how faith communities can support farms and build long-term food security in our state. Participants were asked to answer some core questions: “How can faith communities create transformative ministries that build long-term food security in both urban and rural communities?” and “How can faith communities support thriving farms and food businesses?

The pile of notes from the Come to the Table World Cafes

At each table, a host kept the conversation moving and took notes on flip-chart paper. These notes represent the combined wisdom of hundreds of leaders in farming, food security, and faith from across North Carolina.

There were plenty of concrete ideas. Some came up again and again: Buying CSA (community supported agriculture) shares as a congregation came up 18 times. Community gardens and buying local food for church events each came up more than ten times. The words “education” and “educate” showed up almost 30 times.

Some ideas were more unique: addressing transportation problems that contribute to food insecurity, making church kitchens available for canning, setting up donation stations at farmers’ markets, and creating a locally-grown lunch event around Psalm 24 (“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it…”)

But the overriding themes made it clear that Come to the Table’s attendees were looking beyond individual projects. Participants said that simply providing food or money was not enough. They suggested focusing on root problems that cause poverty and injustice and finding ways to give people the power to eat as they wished, to feed their communities, and to grow food. One table turned an often-used metaphor on it’s head. We’ve all heard, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That’s fine, the table wrote, but it’s time to ask the bigger question – who owns the pond?

Living in community in it’s broadest sense was mentioned by almost every table, whether that meant forming unlikely partnerships, getting to know our farmers, being in conversation with families in need, holding networking and idea-sharing events, or plugging in to existing efforts. The word community appears 59 times in the notes. As one table put it, “Food ministry is secondary. The real issue is who we are in community with.”

The full transcribed notes from all three conversations are available here: MS Word PDF

I used Wordle, an online”word doodle” tool, to condense the notes, look for themes, understand the differences between regions, and make them useful for people who may not want to read eight pages of bullet points.  The bigger the word, the more times it was used.

The complete notes from all three World Cafe sessions show that local food and local communities were the center of the conversation.

The notes from the Piedmont World Cafe highlight farmers, businesses, faith, education, and markets.

The Eastern NC World Cafe notes reflect a focus on building community support and awareness.

The Western NC World Cafe notes show the importance of people, growing food, understanding needs, and access to land and knowledge.

These notes are the result of conversations between some of the most dedicated, creative, grounded, and faithful people in our state. Come to the Table will be using the notes as a guidepost as we shape our work between now and the next conference. I hope they’ll be useful to you and your congregation as well.

Until the conferences come around again, let’s keep the conversation going. Do you have ideas? Stories about congregations that built long-term food security in their communities? Please share them in the comments!

Reposted from June 29, 2011

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