Food for Thought: Ever Been Food-Insecure?

The Work of Prevent Blindness NC

By Carol Wills
Photos courtesy of Capital Area Food Network

Imagine being an eight-year-old Wake county school child who wakes up every morning to no breakfast.

You would be one of 131,000 Wake County residents (at last count) who are considered “food insecure.” Perhaps you live in one of the 18 areas described as “food deserts,” where thousands live in poverty and lack easy access to grocery stores. How are you supposed to focus on your schoolwork when you’re hungry?

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In 2015 a nonprofit organization called the Capital Area Food Network (CAFN) was formed to meet the needs of kids like that hungry eight-year-old, by looking to a healthy food system as the solution. Farms, businesses, social services, markets, gardens, and policies all have a food system role, but before CAFN no Wake County group was trying to connect all these pieces. CAFN members are Wake County citizens from all walks of life – farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists, nonprofit professionals, and educators, as well as community members. And they are always looking for motivated individuals to join their CAFN family.

CAFN President Andy Petesch says, “It’s extremely encouraging to see what can be done when people who care come together.” CAFN’s mission statement makes their goal clear: “To cultivate healthy people, communities and economies through vibrant food and farm systems.”

Erin White, Principal of Raleigh’s Community Food Lab, is a co-founder of CAFN. He recalls that following an 18-month planning period, CAFN launched as an official nonprofit organization in 2015. One of their stated goals in developing a food council was to solve food scarcity challenges in Wake County, and natural connections to Wake County’s food security goals quickly grew. “Wake County’s Food Security Working Group then looked to CAFN to help create a food security plan to address food access issues county-wide,” White says.

White points out that societal changes over the past few decades have affected the way we view food. Celebrations and family time around food is less common. Knowledge of gardening or cooking is declining. Poverty and unemployment have always affected people’s abilities to feed their families fresh, wholesome food, and the mention of cuts to the government’s food stamp program threatens to make the situation even worse. And this is exactly the problem that the network of organizations under the umbrella of CAFN is working to solve. CAFN is a convener and a vision-keeper for organizations in Wake County committed to building a strong local food system and wiping out food insecurity.

According to the Wake County government news, every school in the Wake County Public School System with more than 50 percent of its student population qualifying for the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program now has at least one dedicated food resource – such as Universal School Breakfast, a food pantry, or a BackPack Buddies distribution program – that it can depend on to help feed students. So hopefully, that eight-year-old will not go hungry.

Cindy Sink, Director of Marketing and Strategy for the Inter-faith Food Shuttle, speaks with enthusiasm about her organization’s commitment to the CAFN. “As a community we have to look at the causes of hunger. CAFN gives us a way to connect with other organizations with whom we have a common goal.” Inter-faith Food Shuttle belongs to the Food Access Circle, one of CAFN’s six areas of focus. The circles’ 40 active members support and promote activities that provide access to local, healthy, affordable food for the food insecure.

The most recently formed circle is the Food Recovery circle, which focuses on reducing food waste through composting and rescue of edible food that might be thrown away. Other circles include Farm Advocacy, Regulatory Policy, Food Access, Strategic Relationships, and Communications. CAFN convenes meetings of representatives from all the organizations within the circles to review the newly created Wake County Food Security Plan and to help each circle find their role within that plan.

Petesch adds, “Partnering with Wake County on food security has been a great start for CAFN. We’re in a terrific position to further our connections with the community and engage a much wider array of the local food system. Our circles, or working groups, are formed around key aspects of the food system, and many of the circles are already digging into unique challenges and impactful solutions.”

Erin White says that CAFN is always looking for motivated individuals to join the CAFN movement. Find out which circle speaks to your skills and interests, and contact the group leaders to get involved. There are applications online. Check out for more details.