For Marcus Hill, an interest for local food systems grew out of a blended background in public health (MPH, Yale ‘08), community organizing, social justice and a powerful permaculture course taught by respected subject expert Dr. Will Hooker of N.C. State. It was during the time he audited Dr. Hooker’s course that he clearly understood how food wove through the many stories of social injustice. Soon food justice became a passion and when life brought this Wake Forest alumnus back to Winston-Salem he quickly tapped into a like-minded network and got to work. Since returning he has volunteered to help transition a small farmers market into the original Cobblestone Market held on the cobblestone street adjacent to Krankies; along with Salem Neff (Cobblestone Farmers Market), he created a monthly Chaos Cooking event series which won them both an ECHO Award from The Winston-Salem Foundation for its impact on building social capital; he serves on the board for the Yadkin Riverkeeper; and was tapped as co-researcher and writer on the Forsyth Futures-led local food assessment report which examined the health of and opportunities within our local food system. Today Marcus serves at the lead coordinator for Forsyth Community Food Consortium, a newly established community driven local food policy council. We first met last year after several folks connected us on shared interests. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on a few projects and can say with sincerity that Marcus is not only wicked smart, he’s also one of the raddest, most passionate dudes I know. If you’re into food justice, social change, cooperatively-owned opportunities and love the grit and hustle that continues to shape Winston-Salem’s identity he is certainly someone you should get to know. I recently sat down with him on behalf of Winston-Salem Monthly Magazine to talk about all of these things – and today, that Q&A is below.
For starters, what is a ‘food system’?
In general, the term “food system” refers to the cycle and elements of food creation that keep communities fed. A community food system is traditionally broken down into five main categories: production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste. Within these categories are various elements and stakeholders that contribute to the system. The Forsyth County food system consists of producers, processors, and distributors from around the region including rural counties that serve Forsyth County and the outlets through which consumers purchase local foods.
How do you describe the Forsyth Community Food Consortium?
We are a community-driven food policy council, resource center, collaboration hub, project facilitator that’s centered on local and regional food system development, issues, interests and opportunities. I recently started summing up our work in three words: “Food. Community. Action.” There is a lot of interest and familiarity with terms like ‘food insecurity’ and ‘food deserts’. We’re trying to connect that interest and passion with alternatives that are proven to work. We are about networking but we are also about action.
What do you mean by community-driven?
FCFC believes that no single individual or organization can achieve the same impact as the collective and collaborative work of many working together towards the same end. Ultimately we are a convener and catalyst to bring people together in ways they might not otherwise intersect. We have structured FCFC as a cooperative that gives members ownership in the direction of the organization. We are getting ready to rollout memberships with varying levels including ‘general’, ‘partner’, as well as a coordinated network of community-driven action teams for further engagement.
What are some of the bright spots in our local food community?
There is a growing interest in worker-owned cooperatives. For a long time this has been an overshadowed component in economic development that can reach across class lines. There are some resources coming online in Winston-Salem that I’m very excited about that are there specifically to develop more cooperatively owned businesses including grocery stores and wholesale buying clubs to serve more low-access communities.
You mentioned collaborations as part of your mission. Can you share some examples?
Last year we worked with City Planning to pass the Urban Agriculture Ordinance in support of urban agriculture; we’ve worked with the county’s farmland preservation initiative in developing recommendations for preserving Forsyth County farmland. Earlier this year we hosted a CSA signup day with Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and the Cooperative Extension office to raise awareness in support of our local farms; we’ve talked with The Olio about partnering up for their monthly Hot Salon Series which explores the culture of a different country each month through food and art; in late July we had a table at Cobblestone Market to share more information on memberships and how to get involved in our action teams.
What keeps you in Winston-Salem?
I’ve really fallen in love with Winston. There is a strong network of people here trying to do good things in a very ragtag, renegade way. It’s not perfect but that’s part of the reason I like it. And Winston-Salem really likes supporting things; we want to help create more local food channels to focus that support.
If someone is interested in learning more or becoming involved what do you recommend?
Definitely check out our #ForsythFoodMeetup which happens every second Tuesday of the month at 1pm at The Enterprise Center. We also host an informal meet and greet called the Forsyth Food Slowdown the 3rd Wednesday of every other month. Those are both great ways to get out and meet others and tap into our network and resources. You can find more at www.forsythlocalfood.org.
A VERSION OF THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN WINSTON SALEM MONTHLY MAGAZINE HERE.