In May, more than 600 people gathered at the Breeze Farm in Orange County’s Hurdle Mills to celebrate and enjoy local food prepared by area chefs. The Farm to Fork Picnic is one of ways the Center for Environmental Farming Systems — co-sponsor of the event with Slow Food Triangle and Breeze Farm — is helping advance the cause of local food across North Carolina.
The Farm to Fork Picnic, called the “Best All You Can Eat Feast” by Bon Appetit magazine, draws faithful foodies from the Triangle area. In its third year, the picnic regularly sells out, even at a cost of $50 a person.
Since fall 2008, N.C. State’s CEFS has been active in working with citizens to develop local food economies for North Carolina. Beginning with a series of six work sessions across the state, CEFS’s Farm to Fork initiative gathered input from more than 1,000 citizens, ending with a summit last spring and the announcement of 11 game changer ideas to advance the cause.
The May picnic marked the soft launch for one of the game changer ideas — the kickoff of the 10% Campaign, designed to educate and encourage consumers to eat 10 percent of their food from local sources by shopping for local food or growing their own. The website for the campaign is available at http://nc10percent.com. Consumers will be able to sign up for the Golden LEAF-funded campaign and track their progress toward their goal of 10 percent local food.
N.C. Cooperative Extension — based at N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities, with centers in all the state’s 100 counties – will also be a partner in the 10% Campaign. An Extension agent in every county will serve as an on-the-ground resource person for both consumers and businesses or institutions that want help meeting the 10 percent goal. Links to all county Extension centers are online at www.ces.ncsu.edu.
“Promoting local food is not a fad. It’s a way to sustain our state’s small farmers, protect the environment by reducing the miles our food travels to reach us and help citizens to eat more healthy by consuming fresh, local produce and other farm products,” said Dr. Nancy Creamer, director of CEFS and distinguished professor of sustainable and community-based food systems.
CEFS is a partnership of N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University and the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Its mission is to develop and promote food and farming systems that protect the environment, strengthen local communities and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond.
The Farm to Fork initiative has been successful in meeting other game changer ideas as well. In May 2009 as participants gathered for the Farm to Fork summit, one of the major goals of Farm to Fork was being approved by the state’s General Assembly — creation of the N.C. Sustainable Local Foods Advisory Council. The council began meeting in February, with the goal of promoting local foods within North Carolina.
Then in April, CEFS released a state guide — “From Farm to Fork: A Guide to Building North Carolina’s Sustainable Local Food Economy” — that summarizes all the recommendations of the Farm to Fork initiative, along with personal goals for consumers.
CEFS has expanded its role of outreach to the community, through its annual Sustainable Agriculture Lecture, bringing in heavy hitters in the local foods movement including Slow Food International’s founder Carlo Petrini, Judy Wicks of Philadelphia’s White Dog Café and Growing Power’s founder Will Allen. The lectures are free and open to the public.
Though CEFS has led the charge at N.C. State for increasing local food consumption across the state, others at the university have also been involved. The Campus Farmers Market, a student-led initiative, started last fall as an effort to provide a direct market for local food and to educate the campus community about the importance of buying local foods.
The market brings food and farm product vendors to campus one day a week for most of the fall and spring semesters. At the spring market, students from a nutrition class cooked and shared samples of dishes made with seasonal market foods – kale chips and strawberry shortcake. And each semester, University Dining holds a locavore dinner, with many foods produced in North Carolina.
The university also has a history of involvement with Slow Food International. Religion and philosophy professor Dr. David Auerbach has been a delegate to Slow Food’s Terra Madre, an international conference held in Italy every two years. Three Cooperative Extension professionals attended the event in 2008.
— Natalie Hampton