Food System Resiliency

2020-21 NCACC Presidential Initiative: A Focus on Food System ResiliencyRonnie Smith

North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) President and Martin County Commissioner Ronnie Smith will lead an initiative to address food system resiliency in North Carolina during the 2020-21 presidential year. The goal of the presidential initiative is to identify ways counties can help ensure all North Carolinians have access to high-quality, affordable food and local producers are able to help meet this need.

Issue Brief: Food System Resiliency

Access to food is a basic human need and a critical component to a healthy society. Food system resilience can be defined as the capacity over time of a food system to provide sufficient, acceptable and accessible food to all, in the face of various and often unforeseen disturbances. When people are food insecure, meaning they lack access to high-quality and affordable food to sustain a healthy lifestyle, it has wide impacts on a community. People who are food insecure are disproportionally affected by diet-sensitive chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and according to research, food insecurity is also linked to many adverse effects to overall health. Food insecurity can be particularly harmful for children, who can experience social, emotional and developmental side effects due to the lack of nutrition. The implications of food insecurity are complex, interconnected and far-reaching. The COVID pandemic has and will continue to exacerbate the food insecurity crisis in North Carolina. According to Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap study, conducted to improve our understanding of food insecurity and food costs at the local level, the average food insecurity rate across North Carolina’s counties is 14 percent. And Feeding America projects that the rate will rise to 19.3 percent due to the pandemic. For children, food insecurity is expected to be even more dire, with a projected increase from 19.3 percent to 28.6 percent. At the same time, North Carolina is resource rich. According to state officials, agriculture and agribusiness account for 17% of all jobs in the state and an annual economic impact of $91.8 billion. This industry is vital to our state for many reasons and serves as a critical resource in helping those facing food insecurity. Counties will need to take decisive and immediate action to curb this crisis.

County Role

Counties are extensively involved in addressing food insecurity, particularly through their departments of social services which administers the food and nutrition service programs for families in need of assistance, public school systems that distribute meals to students and cooperative extensions which are in every county and provide research-based knowledge and educational programs enabling people to make practical decisions to improve their quality of life. There are many aspects of the food delivery system that counties directly impact and influence. Ensuring all citizens have access to high-quality, affordable food contributes to the physical, mental, and societal health of a community. Counties can work directly with food providers, create pathways for partnerships and innovative solutions to increase food cultivation and distribution and can provide financial, technical and other in-kind support for initiatives that are supporting increased access to food systems. All of these efforts combined help build food system resiliency.

Year Ahead

President Smith has convened a task force to identify ways counties can provide more food resources and food security to their residents. Given the negative impacts of the COVID pandemic on food delivery systems, this task force will be charged with providing a range of actions, including short-term ideas and solutions that counties can undertake in real-time to immediately address food security issues in their communities. The task force will release findings and solutions after each convening so that counties can begin to work on this issue immediately. The task force will compile the action steps they promote throughout the fall into a final report to serve as a roadmap for counties utilize in developing their plans to address this critical issue.

Presidential Initiative Task Force Co-Chairs

James WestJames West - Co-Chair - Wake CountySue Hinman GranvilleSue Hinman - Co-Chair - Granville County