June 26, 2015 03:18 PM
Updated June 26, 2015 03:35 PM
City leaders are looking for input on how to make Raleigh more friendly to urban agriculture, and they might turn to a group of local food boosters for help.
The Capital Area Food Network launched in January with 30 members dedicated to promoting local food and farm systems. The group is finding ways to share their expertise with governments, nonprofits and others interested in building healthy communities.
“The food system becomes much smarter by that knowledge flowing back and forth,” said Erin White, a founding member and interim chairman of the network.
The group can advise municipalities that are seeking to revise their urban agriculture rules, find ways to promote farmers markets or tackle other questions about all the areas that fall into food systems, from land use to restaurant policies, White said.
Ken Bowers, Raleigh’s planning director, said the network is one resource planners will look to as it seeks to incorporate new ideas about food into the city’s comprehensive plan, a long-range planning document that sets a vision for how Raleigh will grow.
Some day, Raleigh could even create a local food plan, he said.
Bowers said the conversation around local food has changed across the country because of the work of advocates, like those in the network.
“The local food movement has had an impact and probably deserves most of the credit for elevating this conversation in planning circles,” he said.
The Capital Area Food Network’s next step is a series of assessments that show where Wake County’s local food and farm systems are strong and what kinds of improvements are needed.
The group also is recruiting new members from all food perspectives to share in the work. Areas of interest include local entrepreneurship and food, hunger and food access, healthy people and environments, sustainable farming and urban agriculture.
Sara Merz, executive director of Advocates for Health in Action, a nonprofit focused on healthy living in Wake County, said the way people think about local food has changed. It’s no longer seen as a niche interest, but as a concept that can be incorporated into all facets of a community.
“It’s an emerging area,” Merz said. “People have been doing work around it for many years, but there is an increased recognition of its value.”