Highland Community Food Coalition Formed

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In an area dominated by agriculture, it’s ironic that some still struggle to have access to the food they need. The newly formed Highland Community Food Coalition hopes to address this issue, and I spoke to one of its members to learn more.

“My name is Jamie Rudd, and I am a community fellow with Allegheny Mountain Institute. (I’ve) been doing work in urban agriculture for a few years at a nonprofit in Rochester and I realized that, as I want to deepen my work in food system and work for food justice, that I wanted to get a bit more hands-on training and have an opportunity to look at rural food systems in addition to urban ones.”

“So I came across the Allegheny Mountain Institute that offers a year and a half long fellowship, that is a combination of a farming training program, and then a chance to work in different areas of the food system. So for me that’s through community outreach and food access.”

She continued, “For Part One of the fellowship it’s based in Highland County at our farm, and a couple of us for Part Two of the program stay on that farm, so I’m one of those two fellows. So I’m doing work distributing produce from that farm into the Highland community – so that’s through markets, our CSA program, donations, things like that, and then partnering with other folks here in Highland mainly through the Food Coalition.

“The concept of the Food Coalition was something that our fellowship director Jessa Fowler had been thinking about for a few years but weren’t able to really have the resources to get it together until this year, when it could be rolled into part of what my work is. We just sent out a bunch of emails to different folks who are working on food access and food issues in the community and said, ‘Hey, let’s get together and see how we start working together and collaborating.’” And kind of the mission that we had come up with is just to make sure that everyone in our community has access to the food that they need, whether that be through markets, donation programs or growing their own.”

“So we’ve currently got 13 organizations represented – so some of those are: The Highland Center; Virginia Cooperative Extension; AMI; Blue Ridge Area Food Bank; the library; the schools; Department of Social Services; the Children’s House; Valley Program for Aging Services, Blue Grass Resource Center; McDowell Presbyterian Church and the Highland Farmers’ Market.”

“So we started with just who’s already looking at food issues and who’s already connected to the people who need food in the community, so a lot of the organizations I just listed, have those connections, especially Department of Social Services, VPAS, the schools. When we first started out we spent a long time just talking about what we’re all doing so far and what programs are available, and then talked through what holes we saw, what needs that still exist, and began to realize that there’s ways that, by working together, we can fill those needs.”

The first big project of the Coalition was the creation of a Local Food Resource Guide.

“It came out of this realization that we already have a lot of really incredible resources and programs in the community, but not everyone knows about them, and they could be made more accessible. So we thought that doing some marketing around those existing programs was a really good first step. So I, with the help of a few of the different members of the Coalition, put together this paper guide that includes information on emergency programs, specialized programs for seniors and kids, resources for people growing their own food, and information about our local markets.“

She concluded, “The intention of that is just to have one place that everyone can go to learn about all the different ways to access food in our community, and what the qualifications are for each of those different programs. And we are also hoping to eventually make this into an online resource that people can just look it up – I think it’s going to be hosted on The Highland Center’s website – that’ll probably be ready next year. But I’m actually out today dropping off copies of the Guide, so those are going to be at Social Services, VPAS, The Highland Center, and a few other places, and hopefully we’ll be getting them out through the school and places like that as well.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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