Chapel Hill, N.C. — The Farm to Fork Picnic Weekend will be held June 3-5. The three-day event includes a sustainable supper and square dance at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, a more formal dinner with chefs Sam Kass and Andrea Reusing at the Durham Hotel, and a farm-to-fork picnic at W.C. Breeze Family Farm in Hurdle Mills. All proceeds from the weekend will benefit beginning farmer training programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and the W.C. Breeze Family Farm Extension and Research Center.
My colleague and I, Shorlette Ammons, were given the honor of notifying CEFS’s very first Local Food Heroes, both that CEFS’s was creating this award and that they’d been chosen as our first recipients. The honorees are all youth and their youth organizers, reflecting the youth focus of this year’s Farm to Fork picnic weekend. While I tend to think of elders as the first deserving honor—after all, they’ve been seeding and harvesting justice for decades—it seems particularly exciting to honor these youth in this inaugural year of our local food award. Honoring these youth is also honoring the elders and whole communities behind them, as their work is deeply intergenerational. Their work reflects the dedication to place and community instilled in them. All honor where they come from and are dedicated to one of CEFS core mission elements: building strong communities. They are living proof of strong communities. How often we talk about young people as “emerging leaders,” “worthy” of our attention and time, but they are more than the leaders of our future food systems. Yes they will be farmers, and business owners, and healers, parents and policy makers, but these local food heroes are current change makers. These local heroes have been doing amazing work in their own communities for years, really changing things for the better—connecting the dots between concepts about local food and lived realities of how local food can shine a light on injustice and increase equity in day to day life. A number of these groups have also been working together, gathering to explore the connections among their issues, their goals, and the way they do their work. They understand systems, and collaboration, and intersectionality. And they are awe-inspiring.
Emilee Register is a Wayne County teen who is making a real impact on her community. Emilee was a member of CEFS' SWARM program, a teen youth group in Goldsboro NC working on school lunch in their schools. Emilee became a fierce yet humble leader and food justice activist with a passion for agriculture. She is one of a few African-American FFA members at her school, participated in NC A&TSU's Institute for Future Ag Leaders, was a Park Scholar semi-finalist who continues to volunteer and lead activities at the Wayne County Public Library's community garden. Here is a Local S’hero!
The teen youth group at Transplanting Traditions is all about possibilities. These youth honor where they have come from, seek out current leadership opportunities, and make change in their community. The entire youth group at TT has done amazing documentary work with elders around foodways and culture: audio work, photography, and video. They host dinners and lead tours at the farm and they help run the farmers market stands, creating avenues for the broader community to understand their culture. The youth support each other. We wish to honor all the youth involved at Transplanting Traditions for their endless innovation and energy to make things happen, their leadership within their community and beyond, and the drive and optimism towards making their community strong.
Poder Juvenil Campesino, “Rural Youth Power” in English, is a group of middle and high schoolers from farmworker families in Eastern NC. They have worked diligently on everything from national lobbying in DC for the protection and rights of children working in the fields to local educating in their community, holding panel discussions called “Youth Speaks” for educators and policy makers about the issues faced by farmworker communities. They are professionally trained as photographers and have a nationally traveling exhibit that puts both struggles and resilience in print. They have led food drives and started gardens and built chicken coops for their neighbors. Always, they inspire and educate: each other, the other youth groups in CEFS’s FYI, and everyone who meets them. We are all lucky to have them in NC and appreciate them endlessly as Local Food Heroes.
The youth group at Conetoe Family Life Center is part of the larger healthy living effort at their church in Conetoe, NC, Edgecombe County. The whole congregation works a small sustainable farm and cooks healthy meals for members, but the youth are not only a vital force in the farm work and anti-hunger efforts, but also raise bees and teach bee keeping, as well as market and sell their honey. They lead workshops for other youth and adults on everything from growing food to composting and they gather weekly to support each other, to keep steady in addressing community as well as individual goals. Reverend Joyner and all the many youth at CFLC understand and appreciate growing food as a vehicle for change and we thank them all for seeing the deep value in rooting change in the soil of this earth.
The young men at Growing Change are flipping a closed prison in Wagram NC into a sustainable farm and education center. And they are flipping their lives around while they do it. These youth are addressing the root causes of inequities in our food system, and making opportunity out of some of the harshest problems faced in rural North Carolina. They understand disparity and take it head on, creating a model that is now receiving national attention and may prove a pathway to revitalizing innumerable prison sites across NC and the US. They’ve also created a comic book about their experiences, storying their lives and their successes in ways that can really reach other youth facing similar struggles. They do this work in an intentionally multi-racial group—working together as African-Americans, Latinos, Native American’s and white youth. They work hard, are dedicated and diligent, they are learning new things and creating new businesses, making sustainable change for the long haul. They see themselves as “part of the solution” and so do we.
Josie Walker is a recent graduate of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (N.C. A&T) in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. She grew up in Trenton (Jones County), North Carolina and is devoted to both the concept and reality of sustainability. Josie is skillful in teaching the benefits of local foods and believes that people are more receptive to new ideas if they see the relevance to their own lives. While at N.C. A&T, she served as the Local Food Ambassador and built bridges between students and faculty/staff from multiple departments as well as the local community and Cooperative Extension. Josie also worked to connect Eastern NC farmers with new markets through an apprenticeship with Feast Down East. She is yet another S’hero and we are awed by how many she has inspired, including us.
Rooted in the Future
We thank the communities around these young people that have given them strong roots and supported them to become the amazing leaders they are today. We thank these young people, our Local Food Heroes, for doing work that bridges multiple sectors of food systems work and strives towards justice, for their innovation and resilience and out right bravery. And we are endlessly excited to see the changes they, and numerous other young leaders across NC, will bring to how food and agriculture nurtures all of the peoples of our state.