This post was contributed by Laura Cheatham.
Here in Western North Carolina (WNC) we have been working on developing the infrastructure of LocalWiki Asheville since April of this year, catalyzed by a partnership between Neighborhood Economics and the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council (ABFPC). LocalWiki is an online, open source, software platform that allows communities to actively curate what is significant, valuable and real in a place-based way using Wiki technology. Anyone with access to a computer, internet, and a little bit of training can add or edit content.
What if there was a way to see in real time what produce local farmers had available for purchase by local restaurants or distributors? What if we had a common space to share resources, tools, and assets across local and regional networks? Asset mapping has been done in our community and many other communities, regions, and states some ten different ways, but what has been missing are the stories and the voices of those doing the work. This gap is not anything new in the world of food security work. But LocalWiki exemplifies a shift in the way our communities can map ourselves and our connections to each other. Most cities that have implemented LocalWiki have taken a whole community approach, like the Davis, or Ann Arbor LocalWiki’s, but we are initially aiming to facilitate an organic space for LocalWiki to grow in WNC through the sense of community that food naturally creates.
Our first phase in WNC is to help answer our community’s request to improve and foster cross-pollination and effectiveness between community organizations in Asheville and Buncombe County working in food systems. We will then continue to build infrastructure and link content for all other counties in WNC. Seeding this effort has been jump-started with the help of the Appalachian Foodshed Project’s (AFP) Central Appalachia Foodshed LocalWiki. The AFP LocalWiki team and WNC LocalWiki team are building a peer-to-peer learning environment, not only here locally but contributing to the established and growing community of practice that has been built out of the Appalachian Foodshed Project. One way we are doing this is through holding organized editing parties. LocalWiki can serve as a community building tool to gather key stakeholders to network, share, and learn from each other. If you are interested in learning other ways to get LocalWiki started in your community, explore LocalWiki’s resource list to help grow your community.
Although I come from a fairly technologically savvy background, the blank canvas of what LocalWiki offers can be intimidating, even to me. How can we, as a county, as a region, and comprehensively as a tri-state project balance and provide just enough structure to avoid chaos, but leave emergent space for our communities to empower themselves and lead the way? The beauty and beast of the answer is that we don’t know yet. Because LocalWiki is able to be edited and shaped by its users, we have the flexibility to make it what will be most useful to each of our communities. Our local team is ecstatic to be using LocalWiki in new ways alongside the Appalachian Foodshed Project to continue cultivating resilient food systems while building vibrant, healthy communities.
Laura is the Community Coordinator for the Appalachian Foodshed Project in Western North Carolina. She holds her Masters in Agricultural Extension Education from Colorado State University.