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    Reimagining a more inclusive food system



    Student Team
    : Amy Bullington, Sophie Kelmenson, Mieke Lynch, Michelle Madeley, Julio Paredes, and Zilo Toure
    Instructor: Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen

    Faculty and students at DCRP carry out an extensive body of research and engage in a variety of projects working with local communities and clients. Students in the department are also active participants in community-based planning workshop courses in which they engage directly with local community groups.

    In this case, Dr. Mai Nguyen’s PLAN 823 Workshop course developed a community and economic action plan for Southwest Central Durham.  [PDF]

    In partnership with City of Durham, Self-Help, and local residents, DCRP students focused on Food Systems and looked for workforce opportunities in Southwest Central Durham.

    The context of our workshop class

    Self-Help, a  nonprofit that provides financing and consumer financial services, had heard that food-related businesses trying to locate in East Durham were having a difficult time finding commercial space.  Self-Help wanted to better understand the gaps and challenges, and to see if it makes sense to contribute to building up the local food system.

    Iterative Methodology

    First, we worked on refining the research question/problem statement:What is the client really asking us to do? What is feasible?

    Second, we developed an understanding of the context in East Durham, the City and Region more broadly. What is the sociodemographic makeup? What are the assets and challenges of E. Durham? What community and economic development initiatives are underway in E. Durham? What food-related initiatives currently exist in E. Durham, the City, and the Region?

    Third, we worked on clarifying definitions about food systems terminology.

    Fourth, we researched case studies of emerging trends and promising practices from other cities, organizations. We identified elements of successful food initiatives and determined features of successful operating models. We used qualitative methods to interview people active in these fields.

    Fifth, we synthesized our research and provided recommendations, and have begun making connections between local partner organizations.


    At each exchange point from farmer to processor to manufacturer to retailer to consumer, there is value added.   A more equitable food system could allow the value added to remain in the local economy and be distributed among multiple players.

    This vision of a food system re-imagines the traditional food supply chain as a cycle of connected, diverse activities that promote a healthy population and economy. It becomes self-reinforcing.  Here, we have adapted and simplified the non-linear approach to understanding a food system and placed values at the center of the food system, as producers, intermediaries, and consumers all act in ways to build up and reinforce these values. We can also think of these values at the center as the outcomes we envision for a food system.

    Rather than thinking of the food supply chain as a set of events and activities, we can literally shape our food system around a set of values to create a values-based food supply chain.  This is complex, and ambitious, and requires buy-in from all community members involved.

    We defined East Durham as the census tracts of 9, 10.01, 10.02, and 11. These tracts are home to 14,612 people according to the most recent 5 year american community survey. Almost half of the residents live in poverty, compared to less than 20% in at the county, state, and national levels. In addition, the unemployment rate, at  18.6% is significantly higher than the national rate of 5.3%.



    Next we will look at specific food related industries.

    Of those employed in East Durham, 15.8% already work in food preparation or service. This is important, and an encouraging sign, because food related industries tend to require work experience rather than formal education, and many learn skills on the job that help them advance to more lucrative positions. In durham that number is 5.1%; in NC and nationally it’s  5.7%.

    We then selected these six industries to take a look at the types and quality of jobs opportunities that might arise from a food related project. These include Hospitals, which might seem surprising, but as you will here from Mieke in a minute, are large buyers of food and could be a very strategic partner for growing local food economies. The rest of the industries, which are 3digit NAICS code categories,  are more intuitive-- we selected food services and drinking places, food and beverage stores, wholesale non-durable goods, warehousing and storage, and food manufacturing.




    The Innovation Hub we’re proposing could be an important element that would contribute to Durham’s growing values-based food system, and specifically embodies values that we as a workshop identified as important for East Durham.

    Reimagining a more inclusive food system
    PLAN 823 Workshop course developed a community and economic action plan for the Southwest Central Durham [PDF]

    Student Team
    : Amy Bullington, Sophie Kelmenson, Mieke Lynch, Michelle Madeley, Julio Paredes, and Zilo Toure

    Instructor: Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen

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