Rural Food Access Summit draws 150 participants

Presenter at summit

Campbell University’s Public Health program held its second annual Rural Health Summit on Feb. 9. With close to 150 participants including 25 session leaders and panelists from across North Carolina, this year’s summit focused on food access and food insecurity in rural areas across the Southeast.

The event created a platform for community leaders, students, healthcare practitioners and rural health advocates to have an opportunity to share in the cause to eliminate hunger in the very communities where we live and serve.

Keynote speaker Mark Winne, author of Stand Together or Starve Alone, challenged attendees to act with urgency to address the barriers to food access without becoming overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the problem. “All of you young people could see these inequities drastically reduced in your lifetimes,” Winne asserted. “But, only if we focus our efforts squarely on food policy and not just charity.”

Lillian MacNell served as the chief organizer and moderator for the summit and developed an agenda that incorporated expertise from across multiple universities as well as from community-based organizations and agencies. David Tillman, chair of the Department of Public Health, stated, “Most people would think that the regions of the country that grow the food would have plenty of access to healthy foods, but Dr. MacNell has crafted a meaningful opportunity for all of us to better understand the difficulties in rural communities as well as the innovative practices that offer real solutions.”

There were a number of unique and hands-on sessions to choose from throughout the day. One session addressed how community members can take advantage of the USDA’s free summer lunch program for students who go hungry during the summer when free and reduced lunches are no longer available because school is out. Another session discussed the feasibility of doing farm to childcare programs to increase young children’s exposure and consumption of local foods. Faculty members from Meredith College in Raleigh and from UNC Chapel Hill came to share about their campus gardens and edible landscapes and the unique strengths and limitations of gardening on a college campus. Campbell University graduate students from the Public Health and Physician Assistant programs had the opportunity to present posters on their work surrounding food access. Networking opportunities were created, connections made, contact information exchanged and minds enriched.

Current first-year Public Health student and PharmD graduate, Doug Currington, reflected on the day with a great deal of enthusiasm:

“Sitting in the same room with dietitians, physician assistant students, horticulturists, and professionals from other disciplines really shaped my perspective on how we as individuals can collaborate and thrive on behalf of our communities that fall victim to not having a human right such as access to nutritional and filling food. Some research I found to be very intriguing was the volume of food insecurity among college campuses in North Carolina. I commend each individuals’ efforts to provide for students via community gardens and food networks and am excited to attend the Mustard Seed Community Garden’s Roots Festival later this semester so that I too may give back to my community. I am proud of my classmates’ work, and am excited to see the progress and interventions made in the coming months.”