Working Landscapes is a nonprofit organization that is building a resilient regional food supply chain in northeastern North Carolina by connecting farmers to community institutions and organizations, including schools and senior care centers.
Founded in 2010, Working Landscapes was conceived to tackle food systems issues at the grassroots level, with the needs of local communities shaping the goals of the organization. Stakeholder engagement is a central tenet of their work. To that end, the agenda for Working Landscapes was informed by a year-long participatory action research project performed shortly after the inception of the organization—called Growing Local/Buying Local—that emphasized public involvement and collaborative inquiry to understand the opportunities and barriers in facilitating agricultural economic development. Four primary ideas for revitalizing agri-food systems in Warren County, NC, were subsequently identified: "(1) build farm-to-fork infrastructure, (2) support small farmers, (3) engage youth, and (4) educate consumers."
The Working Landscapes Food Hub is one of the organization's key initiatives to connect local farmers and businesses with consumers. The food hub encompasses two projects: ByWay Foods Produce Center, a produce processing facility, and Main Street Kitchen, a shared-use space available to local entrepreneurs wanting to establish and grow their businesses in the food industry.
Another venture of Working Landscapes—called ByWay Foods—is a brand of value-added products that supplies fresh-cut, regionally grown produce—such as cabbage, collard greens, and kale—to schools, childcare centers, and restaurants. In rural counties, school systems are oftentimes the largest purchasers of food. By establishing strong partnerships between local farmers and school districts, farm-to-school supply chains act as important drivers of economic development. Moreover, Working Landscapes increases understanding of locally-grown foods, healthy living, and nutrition in schools across northeastern North Carolina through another initiative, the What's Growing On education program. This program's curriculum features taste tests of locally grown fruits and vegetables and school garden activities. Through these initiatives, Working Landscapes has positioned itself as a leading farm-to-school provider in Northeastern North Carolina.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened food access needs in many rural communities. Resultantly, Working Landscapes started providing emergency food relief by partnering with local non-profit organizations and farms to deliver produce boxes to underserved communities throughout the region. Other food assistance programs include partnering with senior care centers to provide weekly meals and expanding freezer storage for local food pantries.
Working Landscapes is at the forefront of facilitating change toward a more resilient and sustainable food system in Warren County. Their organization serves as a model for others interested in creating a sustainable regional food system. Their work in pioneering new supply chains, raising awareness of locally-grown food, and localizing food processing and distribution is truly empowering the rural communities and economies of North Carolina.
Visit Working Landscapes to learn more about their initiatives and upcoming projects. Visit NAFSN's sister program, the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD), to read more about Working Landscapes' work.
Photo: Working Landscape Food Hub