Learning from the AFP’s Practitioner Profile Project

This post was contributed by Rebecca Landis.

I have been traveling back and forth to North Carolina and in Virginia the past month gathering stories from food systems practitioners in the region. As a new project within the AFP, the “Community Food System Practitioner Profiles of the Appalachian Foodshed Project” seeks to understand the challenges, successes, and lessons learned from engaging in community food security work in the region. I am collecting the majority of interviews and tirelessly transcribing them. We will edit them into profiles and other outreach and education materials to build the knowledge bank of best practices in the area as well as strengthen the networks we have. The goal is also to present some findings at conferences, and author a few papers.

I have spoken to folks from different walks of life, and with very different roles in enhancing food security. I have learned so much already about the area, and the work that goes into improving food security, and have been inspired and excited by the many stories and changed lives that these wonderful people have the privilege to speak about. The range of emotions is vast in these interviews- there is joy, disbelief, humor, sarcasm, uncertainty, fulfillment, hope, pride, and a sense of purpose that permeates every single person’s work.

I have already noticed a number of themes emerging in the interviews that I think are worth sharing. For one, every single person, in one form or another, is talking about building a stronger and broader network, removing the silos in society and organizations, and working towards a collective impact. The region I have been in the most so far, western North Carolina, already has quite a strong network and everyone seems to know everyone else in this work, but if those practitioners feel the network needs to be stronger, imagine how much other regions need this work perhaps even more?

Another theme that’s popping up is education. How great is it that educators are the ones engaged in this work, and one way or another they are teaching people from all walks of life different aspects of food. Maybe it’s a school garden, maybe it’s obesity prevention for adults, maybe it’s showing farmers how to process and package their produce…but it’s all education and it’s making a difference.

One last theme is the unique cultural and social aspects of Appalachia which work both towards and against community food security. There is so much local knowledge buried in the older generation that needs to be tapped into before it is lost forever. Additionally, land is ripe with natural resources that set Appalachia up as an ideal growing region. There is also the culture of fierce independence and ownership, that can make it difficult to convince people to let others farm on their land, or to build a strong community and work together on a garden plot, for example.

I can say that these interviews have been extremely enriching for me and I am looking forward to continuing to learn and grow for them. I am also so excited to be a part of the creation of a tool that can be used in the region and beyond to help push this work forward. Hopefully in the coming months we will have some practitioner profiles crafted that we will be able to share with all of you!

Rebecca Landis is a Masters student in Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech.  She is working as a graduate research assistant with the Appalachian Foodshed Project.