The Appalachian Foodshed Project (AFP) aims to address rural issues of alternative food systems and community food security in the Appalachian areas of West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia through a regional research, outreach, and educational plan. Since 2013, we, as a scholar/practitioner community, have generated 54 narratives, or “practice stories,” from regional activists, educators, and practitioners who operate in community food work and, in some explicit instances, the community food security movement. These actors are involved in a variety of organizations, but each is in some way connected to the broader issues of food system change in central Appalachia. The geographic region covered is composed of mountains—hollers and hills—which can make travel from one community to another challenging, and in many instances, downright difficult. On one level, the sharing of narratives of learning and understanding has been important to our regional community as one way to circumvent the barriers enacted by geographic boundaries. On another level, we suggest that these narratives have epistemological and ontological connections across our immanently constructed hills and hollers—the fixed patterns of thought that calcify current ideas and make new possibilities challenging, and in most cases, and downright difficult.
For some, food insecurity is a profound issue that cannot be “solved” with uniform solutions or technical answers but rather by systems and spaces of integration, coordination, and experimentation that are geared toward emergence and the generation of the new. Particularly, we suggest that by drawing upon a philosophy of difference and possibility (see Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987), that such spaces are places of new knowledges of community food work that productively contest and add to our conceptions of justice and hope, thus opening new possibilities for life-affirming effects with/in the food system. We suggest that narratives contain these spaces.
Our general approach is in the realm of narrative inquiry (Connelly & Clandinin, 2005). We use the definition of “narrative” to mean both a process and a product in this particular design and approach (Richmond, 2002). This includes treating the stories as both a process of reflexivity through storytelling and the products of engaging, activity, and performativity, with everyday knowledge that informs community food work practice. In terms of community direction and involvement in this effort, we followed action research principles (Greenwood & Levin, 2007) with regional practitioners participating in the initial design of storytelling prompts, questions, and locations to conduct the narratives. This approach allowed the practitioners to tell their own stories through a series of “prompting” questions to emphasize their personal meanings, world views, and histories. Drawing upon a similar process from Peters and Hittleman (2003), the in-depth interview process took approximately two hours and was oriented for practitioners to share: 1) her/his/their past experiences in the community and/or community food work, 2) an illustration of community food work that is personally meaningful, and 3) future hopes, aspirations, and intentions for their community food work. Following our university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) processes, each narrative was consented to, audio-recorded, transcribed, re-transcribed with editing, and configured as a public “narrative” through a co-reading and framing process with the interviewers and story tellers. This co-authoring process included careful attention to practitioner responses and consent for public use.
It is important to note that the narratives have a number of intersections with learning in the region and beyond. This includes the personal and reflexive experiences of the interviewers and practitioners as narrative authors. It also comprises newly crafted knowledge and realities of community food work from across our Appalachian communities through the creation and sharing of the stories. The narratives also have purpose in generating creativity, empathy, and idea-making capacity within our university classrooms and public settings in the reading and (re)telling of these stories of cultural community work. Lastly, we suggest that the generative quality of the narratives actually craft productive, “life affirming” possibilities and strategies in our learning and meaning making, which brings hope and dignity to our communities, places, and people.
Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (2005). Narrative inquiry. In J. Green, G. Camilli, & P. Elmore (Eds.), Handbook of complementary methods in educational research (pp. 477-489). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1980/1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Greenwood, D., & Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to action research: Social research for social change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Peters, S.J. & Hittleman, M.J, (Eds.) (2003). We grow people: Profiles of extension educators, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, New York City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Cooperative Extension.