Water is Life. Food is Life.

Last week, I attended the SERCAP (Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Inc.) annual conference here in Roanoke.  SERCAP’s mission is to “improve the quality of life for low-income individuals by promoting affordable water and wastewater facilities, community development, environmental health and economic self-sufficiency.”

I think we have a great deal in common with the mission and purpose of an organization like SERCAP.  At the heart of our food systems work is the desire to improve the quality of life for all people living in this region—with a special focus on individuals and communities with low wealth.  We all have different opinions on what constitutes a good “quality of life,” but we could probably agree that it includes health, security, and the ability to meet basic needs without undue stress.  Ideally, this should also take into account the needs of vulnerable populations, including future generations who do not yet have a voice.

In order to address the many complexities that make up “quality of life,” we have to think about the whole system.  Food and water are two fundamental necessities for living—which is why they can be such powerful access points for creating change in our world.  SERCAP is a great example of what is needed to impact a system.  They have diverse, expansive partnerships with academics, NGO’s and governmental agencies.  Issues of housing, pollution, poverty, environmental justice, and financial literacy co-existed at this year’s conference.  It’s all about water, but, at the same time, so much more.

SERCAP has been working since the 1960’s.  Much of our food systems work (in its current iteration) is much younger than that.  As we mature into our work, we need to take a lesson from those who are veterans at “improving the quality of life for low-income individuals” and cast our nets wider and deeper.  We need to be more expansive and bring more people to the table—water is life, food is life.  What shouldn’t be included in those equations?

Nikki D’Adamo-Damery is the Deputy Director for the Appalachian Foodshed Project, and is based at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.