At a recent Food Committee event ‘Fra Jord til Bord,’ Spire had the pleasure of hosting Noreen Warnock, Co-founder and Director of Community Outreach at Local Matters in Ohio, USA. The seminar addressed the emergence of the local food movement in the United States – with the hope that young Norwegians can begin to consider the needs of our local food system concerning health, accessibility, and the environment.
Warnock spoke passionately about her food justice work in mostly low-income neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio. She clearly loves her job. As most of the forty or so attendees were students pursuing degrees in related fields – human geography, social nutrition, development studies, etc. – (and eventually hoping to get relevant jobs!), we thought it would be both fun and useful to interview Ms. Warnock about her experience carving a career for herself with local foods.
Spire: What brought you into local food system work?
Warnock: In 1972, I read the preface to Frances Moore Lappé’s book, Diet for a Small Planet. I learned that world hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by ineffective and unjust food policies. I, also, learned that meat production was a major cause of environmental degradation, wasted resources, and a contributor to global food scarcity. Something else that brought me to work on local food system issues was my desire that everyone, no matter what their economic status, have access to affordable healthful food. In 1998, I had the opportunity to work full time on food system related issues through my position as the Environmental Campaigns Director for Ohio Citizen Action when we realized how much the need for sustainable farming practices were necessary to help solve serious water quality issues facing Ohio. From there, I became the project manager of a three-year United States Department of Agriculture Community Food Security Grant which allowed me to help facilitate building the local food movement in our area of Ohio. Following this experience, some of us realized we had laid a base for local food system work and needed to form a no-for-profit to continue to help strengthen and expand our local food system – Local Matters, the organization I co-founded and I am currently working with was launched and is now five years old. I was fortunate to find Francis Moore Lappé and to have opportunities to do this work.
Warnock: I would encourage those who want to pursue a career related to food justice to research various food justice groups – volunteer or intern with one or two. When researching these groups look carefully into what the group is doing. Anyone can create a convincing website. Talk with community members the group purports to work with to see if this local food group is really accomplishing what they say they are in the community. If the organization focuses on policy work related to local food system work, study how they do this and what changes they have been involved in effecting.
I, also, feel it important for those who want a career in food justice work to familiarize themselves with the following:
- Sustainable food systems and how they relate to food security and nutrition – Be able to define a Sustainable Food System and compare a global industrial system with a local sustainable one.
- Power dynamics & relationships – Be able to identify the major players in the dominant political & food systems and analyze their power.
- Community organizing & community engagement – Learn to work with communities not do for communities who want to develop sustainable food plans.
- Diversity – Learn about issues and opportunities related to diverse populations.
- Social Ecology – Understand the theory and practical application of social ecology in society and the workplace.
- Conflict resolution – Understand and learn methods of resolving problems between individuals and groups. Practice listening.
- Theory of change – Understand the process and possible outcomes of theory of change
- Strategic planning – Learn how to develop an attainable and sustainable strategic plan for an organization or project.
- Program evaluation – Learn to analyze a program to determine if realizing its goals.
- Basic project management – Develop an approach for project management that aligns with your work style.
- Business plans – Understand business plans and how a sustainable business plan can help inform and strengthen the components of a sustainable food system.
Spire: What will we need to do to address the greatest challenges to local food security in the future?
- Increase healthy food production to meet growing population of the world
- Shift global diets to be more plant-based not meat-based
- Address inequitable distribution of access to healthy food and resources to purchase this food
- Address inequitable distribution of food production assets
- Improve and conserve the natural resources necessary for food production – soil, water, and biodiversity
- Address the reduction of access to oil
- Strategically and quickly deal with issues related to climate change
- Educate all children at an early age about the necessity to make healthy food choices.
This list could include other things we need to do to address the greatest challenges to local food security but these are some of the main challenges and suggested ways to address them.
Spire: What is your dearest memory from your years at Local Matters?
Warnock: It is hard to pick one memory. I always say it is too bad anyone needs to work on issues so that all may have access to healthy food, know where this food comes from, how to grow it, and how to prepare it, but we do have to do this work. I work with some of the most wonderful people in the world. These people and the children we work with are most memorable for me.
Spire: Which Norwegian food did you enjoy most during your visit to Oslo?
Warnock: This is another hard one to answer! I love three, so far – the brown cheese, milk chocolate, and waffles. Probably, brown cheese is number one!
Thanks again to Noreen Warnock for sharing her words of wisdom!
PS-For more information on Warnock and Local Matters, visit their website at http://local-matters.org/
PPS-For those of you who missed our event, check out the documentary ‘Fresh,’ which we screened after Ms. Warnock’s presentation. It offers a solid overview of the challenges our modern agriculture system faces and highlights some of the brave local food activists who are revising food production for a more sustainable, healthier future: http://www.freshthemovie.com/