High Country Local Food Summit 2010 Post Report

Valle Crucis Conference CenterThis year's High Country Local Food Summit took place on November 12 and 13 at the Valle Crucis Conference Center. The theme "Sustaining Communities: Bringing Economy, Ecology, and Equality to the Table" was presented in eight different panel sessions: Direct Marketing, Food Security and Hunger, Sustainable Forestry and Forest Products, Farm Finances and Grant Monies, Farmer Access to Appalachian Food Services at ASU, Possibilities for a Local Meat Processing Facility in the High Country, Land Access for Older and Newer Farmers, and Farm Profitability: Obstacles and Opportunities. A total of 87 people attended the summit on Friday, and 40 attended the half-day on Saturday. Organizers and attendees were extremely pleased with the quality and nature of the panels and conversations during the summit. The Food Summit provided a rare and valuable opportunity to have so many experts involved in the High Country local food system in one place focused on how to activate real change in our region.

food summit mealFriday November 12, 2010

The High Country Local Food Summit commenced with a talk from Chuck Smith that included a discussion of what came out of last year's summit, the state of events today, audience participation as to what is happening in the community with regards to the local food system, and a big word of thanks to people that made the food summit possible. After logistics and further instructions given by Tracy Jarrell, the large group broke into the first two concurrent panel sessions, Direct Marketing and Food Security and Hunger.

The Direct Marketing Panel, facilitated by Jen Walker, included panelists Megan Ray from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, Jeff Thomas from Creek Song Farm, James Wilkes from Faith Mountain Farm, and Andrea Morrell the Pasta Wench. This panel discussed different strategies to direct market products to the public and how to brand your product to stand out among the rest. Part of the focus dealt with electronic marketing using websites and online sales, and personal experiences with marketing initiatives. One of the major points was to not rely solely on one outlet, and know your customers in each market. Overall, it was a great display of how direct marketing is conducted today with a wide range of variance among the panelists from marketing at a farmer's market to an online distribution system.

panel discussionThe Food Security and Hunger Panel was facilitated by Kelly Jo Drey-Houck and included panelists Tamara McNaughton from the Johnson County Farmers Market, Renee Boughman from FARM Café, and Joe Martin from Zydeco Moon Farm and president of the Watauga County Farmers Market. This session presented a lively discussion about access to healthy, local food by all people, regardless of income, while still providing farmers with a living wage. Managing this tension was one theme of the session, and it was decided that education is the main way to overcome the conflict. Specific topics included vendors at the farmers markets accepting EBT tokens, and educating them on this issue as well as the FARM Café, a café to be located in Boone that serves local food prepared by volunteers where only donations are accepted so access to high quality, fresh food is available to people of all economic levels. The dialogue among the panelists and participants led to the idea of having ongoing discussions about this topic.

panel discussionAfter these sessions, lunch was prepared by the VCCC and served in their cafeteria. Attendees feasted on a meal of pulled pork BBQ, sourced from Lexington, NC, coleslaw, potato salad made from Watauga County potatoes, and a salad made from local greens and veggies. Tracey Jarrell and Cameron Farlow fixed vegetarian lasagna made with butternut squash from Tracy's garden and winter greens from the Sustainable Development Farm for the non-meat eaters. Not only was great food enjoyed, but sitting down together for a meal was a chance to expand conversations started during the morning's the sessions.

The next two concurrent sessions following lunch were Sustainable Forestry and Forest Products and Farm Finances and Grant Monies. The Sustainable Forestry and Forest Products panel, facilitated by Brooke Kornegay, featured panelists Jim Hamilton, director of Watauga County Cooperative Extension, Ian Snider, a sustainable forester, Jim Moretz, a ginseng specialist, and Doug Munroe, a farmer that produces maple syrup. There was general talk about how to manage forests for human use in a sustainable manner, restorative forestry where the worst trees are removed first, the obstacles and rewards of growing ginseng, and the details of using sugar maples to produce maple syrup. The central theme of the discussion was that there are an abundance of opportunities in this region to better utilize our forests in ways that can provide primary or supplemental income.

workshop discussionThe panel Farm Finances and Grant Monies was facilitated by Meghan Baker. Panelists included Hollis Wild and Amy Johnston, local farmers, Tammara Cole from NC Cooperative Extension, and Andrew Branahan from NC Farm Transition Network. The two farmers told about their experiences with receiving grant funding, including the application process and where to find grant opportunities. Andrew Branahan, who reviews grant applications told a bit about what the applications that received funding included, such as a plan for how the proposal would not only help the farmer, but the community as a whole. Tammara Cole provided information about agencies that offer grant funding and who to contact to receive help during the application process. The purpose of the panel was to show that grant monies are available for farmers and that there is help for applicants during that process.

There were two final concurrent sessions on Friday, which preceded a short break. One of the sessions was Farmer Access to Appalachian Food Services at ASU, facilitated by Courtney Baines. There were two speakers, Art Kessler, director of Appalachian Food Services, and Megan Ray from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. This panel offered the drawbacks and possibilities for farmers to sell their produce to ASU. ASU is willing to work with famers to source a portion of the food served on campus locally, and there are ongoing meetings to connect the two entities. The university has already partnered with local apple farmer Bill Moretz, and the long term goal is to offer a local food kiosk on campus where all of the food is sourced from 250 miles or less away. Though this is in the works, there are challenges to consider such as seasonality, yet other universities have offered examples of how these issues can be overcome.

food tableThe second session focused on the Possibilities for a Local Meat Processing Facility in the High Country, facilitated by Eddy Labus. Speakers included Casey McKissick from NC Choices and Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Melanie Pollard and Jim Moxley, both from the NC Department of Agriculture. Currently, the challenge with meat processing in the state is that there is a bottleneck with processing in between the producers and consumers. Discussion centered on the demand for a processing facility, and it seems that the demand is here and we must proceed by figuring out what can be done about the demand. The major problem with current facilities is not the distance, but the capacity level of the facilities. The need for receiving help from the state was voiced about this issue, and there needs to be many more discussions concerning this topic.

After the final two sessions on Friday, the attendees re-
grouped to debrief and share about the day's events and discussions, facilitated by Cameron Farlow. The conversation focused on finding relationships between the many conversations started, new connections made that day, and how they link and enhance our theme of Sustaining Communities: Bringing Ecology, Economy, and Equality to the Table.

The day was capped off by a festive "Eat and Greet" that included catered heavy hors de oeuvres featuring local food, an old-time stringband providing musical entertainment, and a lot of good conversation. The purpose was to have a fun, unstructured time where participants could engage in conversation with one another, as this is where connections are made and where we feel we can go forward with actions based on the information discussed during the day's sessions.

music trioSaturday November 13, 2010

Saturday was a half-day that began with an excellent breakfast featuring ham from the Sustainable Development Farm and food donated from Earth Fare. After the breakfast, there were two concurrent sessions that wrapped up the food summit. The first of those was a panel about Land Access for Older and Newer Farmers, facilitated by Chuck Smith, and featuring panelists Matt Cooper from the Leola Street Community Garden, Hillary Wilson from Maverick Farms, Jeffrey Scott from Frontline Conservation, and Eric Hiegl from Blue Ridge Conservancy. Themes of this session included problems with accessing land in this area and how these challenges can be overcome. Since land is so expensive in the High Country, innovative ways of accessing this land for folks that want to farm are needed. An example would be an incubator farm that acts as a training program for people that want to farm but do not have the land. Leasing land and creating a community land trust are other ideas. Great conversation and ideas arose during this panel, and this will be a topic that future panels could also discuss to keep the conversation open about this issue.

food summit organizersThe concurrent session was Farm Profitability: Obstacles and Opportunities, and was facilitated by Richard Boylan. Panelists included Blake Brown, farm economic specialist, and three local farmers: Carol Coulter, Holly Whitesides, and Shiloh Avery. The theme of this panel was to offer experiences about how a person can make farming work financially. Blake Brown offered strategies for keeping track of farm economics, and Carol, Holly, and Shiloh gave their thoughts, ideas, and experiences with how they are able to farm. Some have off-farm jobs, others work solely on the farm, but this only occurred over time and with intense planning. These farmers demonstrate that one can farm in this area financially speaking, but each person advised highly to make a farm plan and budget and be intentional about choices and decisions related to farming.

This year's High Country Local Food Summit was well-attended and the feedback was positive. Excerpts from evaluation forms included: "all panels surpassed my expectations. The relatively small, congenial atmosphere together with knowledgeable speakers made it very fruitful indeed," "very motivating and the casual atmosphere enabled folks to really express what they wanted to see happen and what SHOULD HAPPEN," "my favorite part was getting to know more people in my community," "there was a lot of great information that applied to our farm, our situation, and our goals," and "there was a lot of good discussion in the panels that allowed sharing of different points of view as well as further exploration on how to move forward."