Sustainable local agriculture requires more than good stewardship of the land. It also requires a coordinated network of transportation, storage, infrastructure and support systems to get food from growers to consumers. Food activists across North Carolina are increasingly turning their focus to the work of building healthy food systems. Writing in Raleigh & Company, Jen Baker outlines how this is playing out in downtown Durham:
One recent success story of increasing access to healthy, affordable food is the Geer Street Food Corridor in Durham. Located between North Mangum and North Roxboro streets, it’s a living laboratory of “food systems thinking” translated into community development action.
Its interlocking elements stand alone and yet support each other:
-A food hub, Bull City Cool, houses two non-profit food distributors and supports the cold storage and packing needs of other local food businesses;
-Inter-Faith Food Shuttle farms an urban agriculture site;
-And a healthy corner store is supported by the Partnership for a Healthy Durham and the Durham Health Department.
The driver behind all of these elements, and the developer of the food hub, is Durham’s Reinvestment Partners, guided by Executive Director Peter Skillern. Through traditional real estate development, innovative collaborations and a visionary sense of purpose that connects neighborhood impact with lasting policy and systems changes, Skillern provided the will and capacity to create these urban food opportunities.
Skillern refined his vision through the work and guidance of Erin White, founder of Raleigh’s Community Food Lab, a hybrid design practice inventing new approaches to healthy food systems.
White notes the effort took years of planning and collaboration, as well as capital:
While the design thinking and food system ideas are important in figuring this out, they are really only intentions until the will and capacity to make them happen are found. The real, tangible projects that create a food system require capital, effective project planning, and strong collaborations in order to succeed. If these elements can be found, there is then the opportunity to include innovative thinking about how food helps create a healthy community.
In the Geer Street project, Reinvestment Partners brought the will to change the neighborhood, the capital and resources to drive development, time to convene and coordinate partners, and the expertise to keep these pieces together. Community Food Lab brought the concept, project planning consulting, design and the key ideas that have continued to inform Reinvestment Partners’ thinking on healthy food systems.
The centerpiece of the Geer Street project is Bull City Cool, a food hub that transformed a former gas station into a cool and cold storage facility serving groups who buy or redistribute local produce. The food hub opened its doors at the start of 2015 and was fully occupied by summer. Now, White is looking to replicate Durham’s success story elsewhere:
If you can capture the principles, and capture the ‘how’ of a project, you can build the same kinds of outcomes in a different place, building on what makes that place unique. The methods and design principles behind the Geer Street Food Corridor are absolutely replicable, and yet they absolutely reflect the uniqueness of that place and community. In another place, the outcomes would be different based on community assets, people involved, and the many other parameters of community development.
Read the full story here.