Stories by Region:

Chelsea Graves, Dining Services Student Farm Manager, Interdisciplinary Studies Major, at Virginia Tech Kentland Farms


Community Food Work through Story: Possibilities for Hope and Transformation

The Appalachian Foodshed Project (AFP) community addresses the critical issue of community food security in West Virginia and the Appalachian areas of North Carolina and Virginia through a regional research, outreach, and educational effort. We strive to creatively work with farmers, policy makers, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, and university institutions to build community capacity, cultural understanding, and organizational cohesion while implementing positive changes across the food system. This work includes learning from and building relationships with a diversity of stakeholders related to community and economic development; health and nutrition; environmental advocacy; social justice; and agricultural production, processing, and distribution.

In spring 2013, an initiative was launched to create and share narratives or “stories” that express the diverse experiences of people working for food systems change, and include the voices of practitioners from across western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and West Virginia. The impetus for creating regional narratives comes from the practitioners themselves who are eager to create a regional network yet struggle with the formative process of crafting and weaving their stories and actions together. In many ways, the crafting and sharing of personal narratives of community food work has been most important as a way to create hope, possibility, and a shared understanding of our everyday lived experiences for continued learning and community building.

The stories are co-created to highlight individual and collective voices in the journey of his/her/their work. The stories include exciting projects, such as the creation of a CSA-food pantry partnership, the development of novel structures for community organizing, the establishment of new food hubs, youth and senior advocacy for better food access, and the impact of school and community gardens. These narratives are also a personal testament to the triumphs and challenges of community food work in the region. They are meant to be spaces for learning for all who read them, and the extent of their use and meaning go as far as our imaginations can take them. We invite you to spend some time engaging with these stories while also reflecting on your own.

It is important to note that there are many ways to make sense of community food work and these stories. There are many ways to do the work. The stories are just as complex and dynamic. We turned toward the Whole Measures for Community Food Systems (Whole Measures CFS) (Abi-Nader et al., 2009) as one possibility to guide our narrative making process. As a “values-based, community-oriented tool for evaluation, planning, and dialogue geared toward organizational and community change,” the Whole Measures CFS helps us “see” how sustainable change is more possible if we embrace a more holistic and systems-level view of the interconnected ways in which we can build and sustain healthy and equitable communities (p.7). To help inform a values-based reading of the narratives, we followed the six “fields” and related food system activity that comprise the Whole Measures CFS in the making of our keywords: Justice & Fairness; Strong Communities; Thriving Local Economies; Healthy People; Ecological Sustainability; and Vibrant Farms. From this perspective, the narratives can help facilitate dialogue and a deeper understanding about how and why people from across the region, in a number of organizations and programs, are addressing the complexity of community food security. By engaging with the many meanings and world views each story has to offer, we hope to create new space for new possibility for the work that lies ahead.

Please revisit this site often, as we will be posting new stories throughout 2016. For more information, contact: Kim Niewolny at Virginia Tech: or 540-231-5784.

Click here to read the full PDF.

A very special thank you goes to each of the story tellers and interviewers for their generosity and creativity. We are forever grateful for their inspiration and care. Another thank you goes to the graduate students from the AFP graduate course, Food Security & Resilient Communities at Virginia Tech. Using the course as the backdrop, we were able to craft two rounds of narratives during spring 2013 and 2015. We are also thankful for the insights and editorial expertise of Becca Ligrani, Shreya Mitra, and Garland Mason at Virginia Tech. A special nod goes to Becca Ligrani for providing ample guidance in collecting, transcribing, and editing many of the narratives with folk across the region. Lastly, many thanks goes to Phil D’Adamo-Damery and Nikki D’Adamo-Damery for their contributions and commitment to the project and much more.


Niewolny, K. & D’Adamo-Damery, P. (2016). Learning through story as political praxis: The role of narratives in community food work. In Sumner, J. (Ed.), Learning, food, and sustainability: Sites for resistance and change. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

Abi-Nader, J. Ayson, A., Harris, K., Herra, H. Eddings, D., Habib, D., Hanna, J., Paterson, C., Sutton, K., Villanuesva, L. (2009). Whole measures for community food systems: Value-based planning and evaluation. Community Food Security Coalition: Portland, OR.

Click here to read the full PDF.