First in series of feasts aims to start conversations

First in series of feasts aims to start conversations
April 16
00:00 2014

Community gardeners and health advocates were among those who dined at the Forsyth Cooperative Extension on Monday, April 7 at the Forsyth County Food Consortium’s first community-wide potluck dinner. “A Moveable Feast” featured a spread of healthy, locally-made dishes.

A crowd of dozens enjoy the “Feast.”

A crowd of dozens enjoy the “Feast.”

The consortium is relatively new. The grassroots organization is dedicated to supporting and coordinating efforts that support food sustainability – a broad term used to describe the environmental challenges of food production.

“We don’t really know yet what kind of legal structure it is yet, because we’re about to embark upon that adventure,” Becky Bowen, the newly-hired lead coordinator for the consortium said. “… We’re simply trying to get the people who have common objectives together in a room, talking to each other, so we will have a unified front.”

Consortium leaders say the organization is still shaping its longterm mission and goals, but for now, organizers are content simply to start the conversation, through community driven efforts like the feast that inspire people to get together and talk about the work they are doing to support efforts to push and adopt locally-grown food, which are typically fresher and contain fewer additives than food imported from greater distances.

Tyler Jenkins

Tyler Jenkins

“Our goal with the consortium right now is to build a structure through which community voices are heard,” said Tyler Jenkins, a member of the consortium’s executive committee. “That’s really the main goal.”

The Consortium plans to host similar feasts at venues throughout the county on a quarterly basis, as a means of providing networking opportunities for the many different stakeholders in the sustainable foods movement.

“I think this potluck is really the first (event) the Forsyth County Food Consortium has had, so it’s great to see a good crowd and great to see all the lively talk,” said Mark Jenson, a professor in the Wake Forest School of Divinity, which now offers degrees with a concentration in sustainability. “We think it’s really come a long way, and hope this’ll be a good start to a lot of good things in the future.”

Bowen, who also serves as program manager of NC Thrive at NC State University, believes the food sustainability movement is growing in the local community and across the state.

“It’s gaining momentum, and I think a lot of that has to do with the technology and social media and building awareness of what the issues are,” she said. “I think it just makes it a lot easier for any type of change to happen.”

Guests Allen and Vanessa Keesee.

Guests Allen and Vanessa Keesee.

Allen Keesee and his wife Vanessa say they have also seen evidence of a growing interest in the food-to-table movement. Mr. Keesee, a master gardener, had just hosted a healthy food tasting and compost exhibit for students at Forest Park Elementary earlier that day.

“With the food situation all over the country, more and more companies and schools are getting into the (sustainable) food thing, which is a good thing,” he said.
Keesee, who also serves on the Consortium Advisory Board, is currently working with several community gardens, including the new ones at Praise Assembly Church Ministries and in the Neal Place neighborhood, and Caterpillar, Inc., which is home to a handful of employee-tended raised-bed gardens.

“Forsyth County, we have more community gardens than any other county in the state,” he reported. “Right now, we’re up over 150, I believe, and that’s just the ones we know about.”

Mrs. Keesee says her husband has instilled in her a love of gardening and the fresh ingredients she had learned to cultivate with her own hands.

“You know what you put in, so you know what you’re getting out, and always, the taste is so much better,” she said. “…We very seldom have to go to the grocery store.”

Tamica Patterson has participated in the food sustainability movement for the past two years, by selling locally grown produce at Rebecca’s Store, a corner store that she co-owns with her husband, NAACP Chapter President S. Wayne Patterson.

“There’s power in numbers, so the more we work together and collaborate, the more we can impact a change in Winston-Salem,” the former nurse said of her motivation to participate in the feast. “We really want to help them to make change and keep the awareness up that it’s needed for everyone to have access to healthy food, and I really think before long, it’s going to get stronger.”

For more information about the Forsyth County Food Consortium, visit

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