By Sherrie Norris
With daily headlines providing us with valid reasons to be increasingly concerned about our food, food sources and our neighbors who don’t know from where their next meal will come, the timing could not be more perfect for the High Country’s First Food & Faith Gathering. A collaboration between faith leaders in the High Country and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, the event is scheduled for May 19 at Boone United Methodist Church.
It is being made possible by a coalition of faith-based and community groups joining together to discuss and explore some very important topics related to the food we grow, eat and share with others.
According to Dave Walker, programs director for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, the event organizer, its aim is to strengthen the network of faith communities growing, redistributing, and sharing food as a part of their faith witness, as well as to introduce people who are new to this work to ways they can become involved.
Included in the event will be featured panel speakers, a facilitated discussion and breakout sessions.
Goals of the gathering are basically two-fold, Walker described: First, to offer a space for those who are already participating in a food and faith outreach, to connect those individuals, and to identify needs within the community. “We believe that there are things happening here, but we need to figure out what are the next steps. We need to create synergy and build a stronger network.”
Secondly, the gathering will provide a way for folks who are interested, or are new to the community, to learn more about the opportunities to be involved. “This means engaging fellow community members, offering introductions, and providing connection points.”
Event schedule is as follows:
9:00-9:30 a.m. – Welcome by Laura Byrch, Boone United Methodist Church.
9:30-10:30 a.m. – Speaker panel: moderated by Christina Bailey, representing Village Vision, and featuring Matt Gundlach Beatitude Gardens, Blackburn Community Outreach, and Tommy Brown from F.A.R.M. Café.
10:30-12:00 p.m. – World Cafe Roundtable: Participants will be divided into small, rotating groups for brief discussions of various related issues. (Ex: What practices, scriptures/writings, or parts of your faith tradition do you find important for the work of growing, eating, and sharing food and working for food justice?) The format invites participants to get to know others and to hear their stories. It also builds upon one of the gathering’s main goals: “What Comes Next?”
12:00-1:00 p.m. – Lunch provided by F.A.R.M. Cafe.
During lunch, participants are invited to share what they know about our community on the asset map and add their skills to our community bank, also known as “notes on the wall.”
Walker described: “The asset map will help us learn more about our community. It will be a giant sheet of paper where participants can add what their community looks like, where are the grocery stores, the churches and the community gardens. But, it will also be a place where folks can add their dreams and desires, what would they like to see in their community.”
Bordering the map, Walker said, will be smaller maps of Watauga County that describe transportation routes, places without grocery stores and high levels of poverty.
“ The asset map activity will be an opportunity for us to learn more about Watauga County and to learn more about how our neighbors envision the future of Watauga County.”
The notes on the wall will be giant sticky notes placed on the wall where participants can write their skills (ie: grant writing, growing potatoes,, etc.) or things that they would be interested in sharing — whether it be a plot of land where someone can grow potatoes or has a car and can deliver fresh vegetables from Zionville to food pantries in Boone, Walker added. “The notes will also ask participants to share their experiences: “What did you wish you knew when you first started doing food and faith work?” and their needs — maybe their food pantry needs local eggs, my church needs help tilling up a garden space, etc.”
1:00-2:15 PM – Focused Tracks:
(1) Introduction to Food & Faith Work in North Carolina, will be geared toward folks who are new to food and faith work. Michelle Osborne of Rural Advancement Foundation International will facilitate this track, sharing how communities across North Carolina have used food and faith to build stronger, more vibrant futures.
(2) Crowdsourcing Food & Faith Work in the High Country will work to distill the work from the world cafe section, the asset map and notes on the wall. It will be organized by participants that join this group, answering: “What ways are we already working together? What ways can we better work together? What are some next steps?”
2:15-2:45 PM – Closing: Participants from Crowdsourcing Food & Faith Work in the High Country will share ways that we can move forward.
More about featured speakers and the organizations they represent.
Michelle Osborne is the program manager for Come to the Table, a program of Rural Advancement Foundation International USA, based in Pittsboro. RAFI’s Come to the Table program is best known for hosting conferences that bring together faith leaders and laypeople, hunger relief advocates, farmers, farm workers, school nutrition directors and others from across North Carolina to find mutually beneficial solutions to food insecurity. The program also provides technical assistance to farmers’ markets, churches, faith and community groups starting or expanding food and hunger initiatives.
“For the last several years, High Country faith leaders have attended statewide and regional Come to the Table conferences and worked with Resourceful Communities and the Duke Endowment to promote healthy, good food in our community,” said Walker. “Michelle, as the program manager, is very knowledgeable about different initiatives across North Carolina that seek to build more resilient and just food systems. She also has deep understanding of what good partnerships look like and will share examples of how communities are using food and faith networks to build stronger, more vibrant futures.”
Village Vision is an organization that works to celebrate community, local food, and service in the High Country, said Walker. “They do this through community service projects, fundraising for more equitable local food access for all, and creating fun environments for people to come together and enjoy local music, art, workshops, healing arts, friends, and family.”
Just last Sunday, Walker added, Village Vision held its annual festival in downtown Boone, raising money for the Double Up Food Bucks program.
“Founder Christina Bailey actively works with the Watauga Food Council’s Food Access & Security working group and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture to advocate and fundraise so that everyone has access to fresh, local food.”
Matt Gundlach is the garden coordinator at Beatitude Gardens, a program of Blackburn Community Outreach in Todd. “Beatitude Gardens is a demonstration plot for small-scale, regenerative agriculture that educates young leaders, builds community, and increases food access in Todd and surrounding areas,” Walker described. “One of the ways that they do this is through sharing their harvests through a mobile market in Todd, called Todd’s Table. They also have internships and apprenticeships for youth that would like to learn more about small-scale regenerative agriculture.”
Tommy Brown is the Volunteer coordinator/marketing/development coordinator for
F.A.R.M. Cafe, a non-profit, pay-what-you-can community kitchen that builds a healthy and inclusive community, and provides high-quality and delicious meals produced from local sources when available, served in a restaurant where everybody eats, regardless of means.
The upcoming event is sponsored by: Resourceful Communities,(PPO,) Stick Boy Bread Co., Faithbridge UMC & Casting Bread Ministries, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and Blowing Rock CARES
Participants may register online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/high-country-food-faith-gathering-tickets-45042131227 or by calling Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture at 828-386-1537. Participants are asked to RSVP to allow for adequate food preparation and also to contribute $5, which will go toward developing the community’s food and faith network. Participants who register over the phone, may pay at the door.
Boone United Methodist Church is located at 471 New Market Boulevard in Boone.