5.21.2010

CNE-hosted Local Food Meeting

I recently received an email regarding a Summer Networking Series that the Charlottesville-based Center for Nonprofit Excellence was putting together. Their first topic, as determined "through conversations, articles, and the local drum beat," was on local food and community gardens. Upon witnessing the crowd that turned out at yesterday's meeting (held at the downtown Jefferson Madison Regional Library), all I can say is that the folks at CNE sure have their finger on the pulse of our local community -- wow! There were about 60 people in attendance, representing a myriad of community projects and interests: JABA, Local Food Hub, IRC, The Haven, UVa, QCC Farms!, Charlottesville Cooking School, several elementary school gardens, and even a woman who simply introduced herself as "an interested community member."

After a brief round of introductions, the audience was divided into smaller working groups -- community gardens, small-scale local food operations, and institutional food. As the group began to subdivide, it quickly became obvious where the need for change lay: over half of the attendees identified themselves as part of the institutional food group. We spent about 45 minutes discussing the challenges to integrating local food into an institutional setting, and then attempted to match up or identify experts that could provide solutions to those problems. Expertise is certainly abundant in this vibrant community, but the challenges were numerous, and almost seemed to multiply as we sat there conversing. The overarching theme, however, emerged as one of stronger communication and a need for accessible resources, perhaps via an aggregate website or even simply a facebook group.

The hour and a half allotted for this meeting was obviously not enough to even begin to tackle the numerous issues, but CNE staff are compiling the notes and brainstorming ideas that came out of our discussions, and I look forward to seeing them organized in some coherent and cohesive way. Certainly, having so many of us trying to come together collaboratively for such a brief time almost felt a bit like network speed-dating, but I hope it's the first of many such conversations. Thanks again to CNE for bringing everyone together to discuss an issue for which many have such passion!

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