by Stephen Hoog —
Down in North Carolina, around Chapel Hill in an area called the Triangle, there is a project that is going on which may be of interest to the people of the Lehigh Valley. In that area, many people and organizations are concerned about food security. They don’t want to be dependent on food that comes from great distances and want to ensure that there are farmers that grow enough food locally. They want to ensure that land will be available into the future so that the farmers can grow the food sustainably to feed the people of the Triangle. The project plan involves four major components.
First, there is community land trust formation. This would involve creating a non-profit organization that would begin acquiring various pieces of land that could be used to help new farmers begin full-scale farming operations.
Second, a farm stewardship incubator and education program. New farm- ers often need mentors to teach them the tricks of the trade, so Central Carolina Community College is offering a two-year Associates degree program in Sustainable Agriculture. Under the proposed plan, when the graduates complete their program they would be placed with a local organic farmer who is nearing retirement to further learn the business. When the farmer retires, the young farmer would take over the business—that is if the farmer agrees to put the land in trust. By working with farm- ers that are retiring, the land stays in agriculture, the wisdom of many years of caring for the land is passed on, and the community ensures a food supply.
The third component of the plan is a community food distribution center and possible value-added kitchen. This would allow food from the growing areas to come into the more populated area for distribution to restaurants, food stores, and other establishments. It would allow larger institutions to order substantial quantities from local growers. They are wisely looking to the Philadelphia Fair Food Project as a model for this idea.
Finally, the people involved in promoting this plan are looking at a possible time-dollar exchange system to play a part in this whole operation. This would help to develop a truly local value exchange system for their area.
The reason all of this might be of interest to Lehigh Valley folks is that some of these things are already coming into play. David Harper, a key component of the Triangle Plan with experience in land trusts, has already presented information to the Alliance for Sustainable Communities on how to set up a land trust for its Energy Center plan and could offer advice for an agricultural land trust. A new “Buy Fresh Buy Local Campaign’ is getting off the ground to develop that “buy local” consciousness. A new Lehigh Valley Food Co-op is talking of a possible distribution center in its plans for providing local food to its members. There is talk of a local farm incubator program in Lehigh County. And there is already a time-dollar exchange organization operating in the area called Community Exchange. Interestingly enough, one of its next projects is to examine how time dollars can be used to obtain locally-grown food from the coop, the farmers, and other retail food outlets. The elements are here to create a region-wide system similar to that proposed in North Carolina. It need not be an exact copy of that model but would grab the energy that is already happening and mold it into a larger vision that would help to ensure food security for the Lehigh Valley.
Steve is a member of the Alliance Steering Committee and offers holistic health services through Living Potentials.
(Originally published in the Alliance’s 2008 Directory of Organizations That Promote Sustainable Communities.)