04/10/08 — Initiative sets sights on developing local food sources

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Initiative sets sights on developing local food sources

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 10, 2008 1:55 PM

Hoping to encourage people to think and eat locally, a group of more than 25 Wayne County organizations and residents has come together in a loose coalition to form the Wayne Food Initiative.

Focused on helping create sustainable, profitable options for county farmers, as well as on providing healthy alternatives for people, the group is working to promote local food.

"It's very grassroots, but this is part of a larger effort in North Carolina," explained Tess Thraves, a food systems consultant working with the Center for Environmentally Friendly Systems at Cherry Research Farm to help organize the program.

Ultimately, explained Steve Moore, farm manager with the Small Farm Unit at CEFS, the goal is to create a self-contained, local food economy.

"It's very idealistic, but the alternative isn't very pleasant," he said, noting the threats and costs of relying on global food sources. "And it'd be nice if money spent on food by people in Wayne County actually went to the people working hard in Wayne County."

There are, however, a few obstacles -- most notably, he explained, the fact that Wayne County does not have a vibrant farmer's market, even though it's one of the top 10 agricultural counties in the United State.

"All that we're producing on our farms, we're shipping it all over the world and then shipping somebody else's back in," he said.

But that's what he's hoping the Wayne Food Initiative can change.

"This is community-based and we're welcoming people to join us. It's still new -- just barely conceived actually -- but we're gaining momentum," Moore said. "There are 180 (open) acres inside the City of Goldsboro. Can you imagine if even a 10th of that was turned into gardens?"

One such group already doing that is the Wayne County Public Library with its community garden.

Filled primarily with vegetables and herbs, the goal of the 50-by-50-foot garden, said Shorlette Ammons-Stephens, the head of child services at the library, is to bring people in the community together on a common project.

The added benefit, though, is that everyone who works in the garden is welcome to take home any of the produce grown, and any that is left over is given to local food pantries.

"It really is a community garden," she said, adding that she hopes it can be a cornerstone of the new initiative.

Also participating is the Castles 21st Century Community Learning Center -- an after-school program based primarily out of Dillard Academy Charter School.

The program, which focuses on teaching math, science and reading using a gardening-based curriculum, has been around for about three years.

And in that time, said program director Danielle Baptiste, their garden has grown to about 2.5 acres, where they grow all kinds of vegetables and fresh produce at both Dillard Academy and First African Baptist Church.

Through the program, she explained, the children have the opportunity follow the growing process from the purchasing and planting of the seeds to the harvesting and selling of the crops. They also get the chance to learn about healthy food choices and to take some of the fresh produce home with them. The balance of the crop is then given to the Dillard Academy food pantry.

And this spring, she said, she's excited about the potential of their new cooperation with the Wayne Food Initiative.

"They really have helped pick us up," she said. "They've given us a lot of technical assistance. And in turn, we would like to be the student ambassadors for the initiative, helping educate the public about healthier eating."

And it's that kind of enthusiasm that has all the participants excited about the initiative's long-term future.

"We just hope this spawns a movement and that it takes off," Ms. Stephens said, adding that if anybody is interested in participating, they can start by contacting her at the library -- 735-1824.