500 in 5 Community Conversations

A current RFFC project underway is the 500 in 5 Community Conversations. After months of researching and benchmarking with national food council groups, we were strongly encouraged to begin community engagement in eliciting feedback and suggestions in order to create meaningful strategies in meeting the needs of the region.

As the campaign name indicates, the goal of the effort was to collect data from 500 (or more) conversations with community members across the five county region to discuss the local food system.

In the winter of 2015, RFFC embarked on the design of the 500 in 5 Community Conversations campaign. After the design of the 500 in 5 structure, the organization proceeded with training interviewers and collecting community conversations in April 2016. Training and materials made possible by a grant from The Tazewell Public Health Foundation. In July 2016, the 500 in 5 began with a small group of trained interviewers instructed by The gitm Foundation. The majority of the conversations were conducted with the assistance of the county health departments.

500 conversations regarding access to fresh food were completed in the 5 RFFC counties in early 2017. The data from conversations, including verbatim responses from the interviews, were arranged into eight different categories, including:

1. Food Access

2. Employment/ Jobs

3. Cost of Healthy Food

4. Food Quality

5. Health Issues

6. Farming and Growing Practices

7. Time

8. Education

Of the eight categories, Council members analyzed results and three emerged as the primary areas in need of attention. The three primary categories (pulled from verbatim responses) are as follows:

1. Time:

Interviewees see time as a primary barrier to their ability to “eat healthy”, noting that their busy schedules do not allow for time to plan out meals or cook and that perceived healthy foods take longer to cook. Comments also focused on convenience as an extension of time considerations, citing the desire for fresh produce to be delivered to the door, drive-through fruit and vegetable stands, and more access to healthy, pre-made meals.

2. Education:

Interviewees consistently cited a lack of understanding of fresh produce availability and costs and expressed a desire for more knowledge on preparation techniques, flavors and preservation.

3. Employment/Jobs:

The final area of focus seemed to be related to the economic impacts of the local food system, citing the need for more local farms and markets to produce and sell food for local people as well as the job creation associated with these potential developments.

500 in 5 serves as the foundation of data on which the RFFC will derive its future project work and support for key initiatives in the region.

Shannon Halford