Duke’s World Food Policy Center (WFPC) recently organized a panel discussion on food security efforts across multiple scales – global to local, and urban to rural.
The panel featured Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, Reverend Richard Joyner, WFPC Associate Director Sarah Zoubek, and Ertharin Cousin, former U.N. Director of the World Food Programme, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N Agencies for Food and Agriculture under the Obama Administration.
Schewel discussed his partnership with the WFPC and other organizations across Durham to develop a food security plan for the city. Rev. Joyner discussed his work in leading Edgecombe County to healthier eating, healthier lifestyles and economic prosperity through a community garden and youth engagement. And Zoubek discussed the role Duke’s WFPC is beginning to play in connecting research, policy, practice and people to serve the food security needs of rural and urban communities.
Cousin moderated the discussion and drew attention to commonalities in the challenges of addressing food insecurity at all levels.
Q: How are you working to address food security?
Reverend Richard Joyner Pastor, Conetoe Baptist Church, Edgecombe County and Founder, Conetoe Family Life Center
In a rural community, our biggest challenge is trust. In Edgecombe County, we have had tremendous land loss from generations of sharecropping. You cannot leave race out of the discussion. We [Edgecombe County African Americans] would rather go without proper nutrition than relive the pain of injustice. In the past, land deals went through but neither land nor money were passed down to the black people who worked those lands. So race is a tough issue in rural North Carolina food.
“I would say 98 percent of our problem was access to fresh, locally grown food prepared in healthy ways.”
-- Rev. Richard Joyner
The challenge of promoting healthy living at a Baptist Church in southern North Carolina is telling people they can’t eat fried chicken. I’m very serious. Healthy eating practices are a huge piece of the health problems in the county. We really got into the community garden project because of chronic disease. Our young people were on the highest levels of blood pressure medication at 15 years of age and they were dying on dialysis in their 30s. I would say 98 percent of our problem was access to fresh, locally grown food prepared in healthy ways. And, we knew we were not going to buy our way out of our situation. There would be no grant that would save us. So we had to go back to the farm–knowing that it would be a long period of time before it would become sustainable.
We faced all the barriers of how to get into the bigger markets. Seeds cost money. Plants costs more. With hurricanes, we lost our honey four times because of floods and went back to zero profits. Our challenge was having enough passion and strength to keep going. We did not do this because we had any knowledge of anyone else doing this. We had to discover our way as a community.
We managed it the best way we could to put food on the table, to reduce disease, to help ensure people got educated, and to build our community. Our community center now provides after-school and summer camp programs for youth aged 5 to 18 at community gardens where they plan, plant and harvest produce, which they sell at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and to restaurants. The youth also manage beehives to pollinate the crops and produce and distribute honey to low-income neighbors. The revenue they earn goes to school supplies and scholarships. We were able to leverage 4H to get our work into schools. Children who were once on inhalers can now run two or three miles and enjoy being active. The high school graduation rate in Conetoe has increased from 50 to 80 percent. ER visits are down 40 percent, and community health risks are down 50 percent. Our successes center on healthy eating and a community garden. Twenty-one nearby rural churches in four counties have adopted our approach.
Steve Schewel Mayor, City of Durham
Around 50,000 people in Durham are food insecure. We are trying to do our work toward a food security plan for the city through a racial equity lens. We understand that how people have been treated in the past is central to their feelings now as we try to move forward collectively. Durham has a lot of people coming together to work on a food security plan. I am not sure yet how to achieve it, but we are trying to keep race at the forefront because it drives so much. I have been hearing about Rev. Joyner and his work in Edgecombe County for a long time, and it resonates with me that building trust was his biggest problem. Ertharin echoed that the problem is the same at the international level in her talk earlier.
“We understand that how people have been treated in the past is central to their feelings now as we try to move forward collectively.”
-- Steve Schewel
City governments should embrace their role to convene people, to create relationships and to help make the changes that communities need. We have the power to create a city free of hunger and an economy around built on that. In Durham, we have a large restaurant economy, but we also need food hubs and aggregators that will help farmers and ranchers access larger-volume markets. And, we need to deal with food waste better. We have a giant solid waste department in Durham that ships waste to another county and we pay by the pound. Twenty-five percent of that waste by weight is organic matter—it is food waste. We can change that.
I am also concerned with all the other things that surround the people we need to feed in Durham. They also need safe, warm and dry places to live, transportation to work, and living wages.
Sarah Zoubek Associate Director, Duke World Food Policy Center
There are many organizations working on improving nutrition, or increasing agricultural productivity in environmentally sustainable ways, or on protecting the food system from contamination. But there are not many organizations tasked with connecting the worlds of nutrition and agriculture for example. Or connecting rural and urban contexts and lessons learned on food security. Or examining what is occurring globally on a topic and then applying it to our local county. At the WFPC, we are trying to create those connections and to get better information into the right hands for evidence-based decision-making around food systems. Central to our work is also a focus on lifting up marginalized populations. These populations don’t get the benefit from systems until we bring them into the conversation.
“Central to our work is also a focus on lifting up marginalized populations. These populations don’t get the benefit from systems until we bring them into the conversation.”
-- Sarah Zoubek
We are fortunate to have such great relationships with a rural community who is working hard on food security and having many successes. Our partnership with Rev. Joyner is invaluable—there is very little research that bridges rural and urban food community models. Our home institution, Duke, is situated in Durham, and we are proud to partner with Mayor Schewel in the City of Durham Food Security work. As academics in this space, part of our task is also to communicate our learnings so that others benefit from the investments our teams are making.
Cousin thanked the panelist for sharing their experiences.
“I get very excited to hear from a mayor who wants to build security for his security, and a pastor who wants to ensure his community grows healthy and strong,” said Cousin. “I can tell you that regardless of the scale of the problem—whether it is a small community or on the international scale—the problems are very similar. And trust, relationships, and connections are central to our success.”
“You know farmers know that you can’t make change in the space of a single growing season,” Cousin said. “It takes time to change behaviors, to conduct science, and to change policy. It really resonates with me to hear that funders are learning to understand that longer grant cycles are needed to make lasting change.”
“With public will and collective action, zero hunger is possible,” Cousin said.