Local municipalities hope to come together to fund the Orange County Food Council
Ken Dawson has been working on his farm, Maple Spring Gardens, for 36 years. He currently serves on the Orange County Food Council and is committed to providing local, organic produce to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. "Raising food for the local community has been my life's work. The food council supports that work."
The Chapel Hill Town Council passed a Memorandum of Understanding on Jan. 30 to establish a joint-funding agreement with local governments to support the Orange County Food Council.
The OCFC was formed in spring 2016 with the goal of growing a local food system that ensures access to nutritious foods for all in the county while also promoting sustainable agriculture, increasing economic development and advancing social justice.
The memorandum now has to go before the Orange County Commissioners for a vote. If they pass it, the county will create a full-time staff position for a food council coordinator that will be funded by all the municipalities in the county.
The funding formula will be population-based on a total, annual proposed budget of $71,000. This leaves Chapel Hill responsible for 41 percent of the funding, the county with 39 percent of the funding and Carrboro and Hillsborough charged with the remaining 20 percent of the costs.
Several citizens voiced their support for the memorandum in front of the Town Council, citing the OCFC’s role in securing funds for food-insecure members in the community in addition to bringing healthy food to the area.
Ken Dawson, a local farmer and liaison to the Agricultural Preservation Board for the food council, said he thinks the memorandum will raise awareness of the food council and make it a more legitimate force.
One of the critiques the Town Council offered to the OCFC was that their performance metrics were not very clear nor encompassing.
Dawson acknowledged this but said the food council's efforts are hard to measure quantitatively.
He also noted the trend in the agricultural industry has been shifting away from the large, traditional tobacco and dairy farms, and instead toward smaller farms. Because of this, he said there is a need to support the continuation of local and viable agriculture like these farmers because they are “protectors of the watershed” and contribute to the local economy.
The OCFC is not the only organization making efforts to increase food security in the county. PORCH, which was founded in 2010, places a greater emphasis on food delivery than the OCFC, said Susan Romaine, one of the organizations three original founders.
Speaking on the two organization's similarities, Romaine said although many people think of the county as an affluent area, there are several pockets of poverty.
“There is this tremendous need for different organizations to come together and strengthen the safety nets for some of these families that are living, in many cases, from paycheck to paycheck,” Romaine said.
While the food council is waiting for the the county commissioners to approve the memorandum, the food council is split into several smaller workgroups with more specific focuses, including food access, local food economy and waste rescue workgroups.
Jenn Weaver, co-chairperson of the OCFC and mayor pro tem of Hillsborough, represents the commissioners on the food council. She said the group focusing on waste rescue is working with some local businesses, like Joe Van Gogh, in efforts to move toward a zero-waste environment.
Weaver said the Town of Hillsborough has generally been very positive with its response to the food council's efforts, and the town has been very enthusiastic about the idea.
“We’ve had some challenges trying to help folks understand exactly what it is the food council does,” Weaver said.
Much of this confusion stems from the confusion between system-level work like the OCFC and direct-access work from groups like PORCH, she said.
“The food council is learning as we go, too,” she said.
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