UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Food for the greater community

111616feature_greatercommunityTrying to make sure everyone in our community has access to quality food is no small task. But a multidisciplinary approach may be the key for Guilford County.

Dr. Marianne LeGreco is a faculty member in Communication Studies, and Dr. Stephen Sills in Sociology, but their work with the Center of Housing and Community Studies allows them to focus on local issues in collaboration with faculty and students from at least six other UNCG departments. Those include Geography, Nutrition, Public Health, Computer Science, the Nursing School and Environmental Studies and Sustainability. Among the Center’s nonprofit partners are the Guilford County Cooperative Extension Office, Greensboro Farmers Market and the Out of the Garden Project.

That widespread collaboration, they say, was crucial to the City of Greensboro’s recent attainment of the $470,000 Local Food Promotion Program Implementation grant for its Fresh Food Access Plan.

LeGreco has been involved in community food concerns since 2007, eight years before the Greensboro-High Point metropolitan area was ranked by the Food Research & Action Network as No. 1 in food hardship rates nationally. In 2014, Greensboro received a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant of $25,000 for an assessment of food resources, which meant that LeGreco, her colleagues, and her nonprofit partners were able to begin the task of methodically assessing Greensboro’s food access needs. They investigated Guilford County’s food deserts, or areas with very limited access to fresh food, and they hosted events such as Local Food Storm, where they mapped food access in Guilford County. To this end, LeGreco worked with Sills and the Center for Housing and Community Studies. Due to their work alongside others, the Greensboro-High Point area has moved from No. 1 to No. 9 in its food hardship rate.

The new, much more sizable grant provides a tremendous push for all those working to solve Greensboro’s food access problem, making it possible to track and monitor information about in more detail at a community level. LeGreco and Sills will carry out this research by communicating with focus groups, local health care professionals and residents who are affected. Their ultimate goal is to create a research tool that is grounded in the community, and which could be transferrable to other communities’ food access studies.

The grant also provides funding for several shared-use kitchen spaces in food desert areas. These kitchens, in public locations, can be used by multiple groups producing food commercially. LeGreco, Sills and their partners are working toward the kitchens’ upgrades to meet the food producers’ needs and commercial requirements. There is currently a teaching kitchen at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, and a shared kitchen at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Kitchens managed by Greensboro Parks and Recreation are becoming available as well.

The Fresh Food Access Plan includes guidance and planning assistance, so that small farmers and food business entrepreneurs can “get over the hump,” as LeGreco says, and begin selling food commercially. The grant will help small farmers navigate the food certification process, which, as a new farmer himself, Sills has found challenging.

LeGreco and Sills will also continue to bolster the activity of community gardens and map housing issues and health problems along with food access. Much of LeGreco and Sills’ work is embedded in classes with undergraduates or graduate students, and Sills also hosts a discussion series, Housing Hangouts, at the Center of Housing and Community Studies. Students, faculty and members of the community who want to learn more about improving Greensboro’s food access and addressing other community issues, are encouraged to contact the Center and to watch for upcoming Housing Hangouts through the Facebook page.

The Guilford Food Council Year-End Potluck will be Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Guilford County Cooperative Extension at 3309 Burlington Rd. All are invited to celebrate the Fresh Food Access Plan grant and to learn more.

By Susan Kirby-Smith

Note: The Geography department has been included in the paragraph 2 listing.