ASK AN EXPERT
One of the ways that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council works to facilitate conversations about food system work is through our monthly member events. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, these events have been online and recorded. In these “Ask an Expert” interviews, we invite local food system experts in to discuss their work and its challenges, specifically relating to COVID-19, as well as any other relevant information or resources to share with the community.
Federal Food and Agriculture Policy
Tim Williams, Community Advisory Panel: Tim Williams grew up in Charlotte and graduated from UNC Charlotte with a B.S in Economics in 2010. Tim has held several food and agriculture positions including as a volunteer with the Mecklenburg County Cooperative Extension, as a FoodCorps Service Member with Feast Down East in Southeastern North Carolina, Working Landscapes, and MANNA FoodBank in Asheville. Currently, Tim serves as a Program Analyst at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. After work, you can find Tim swimming laps at the Y or walking his 10 year old lab, Mr. Macon.
Jared Cates, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association: Jared Cates is the Policy Director at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, where he has worked for over a decade to connect, organize, and mobilize community members and food policy councils around critical public policy issues. He holds a Master in Social Work from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University, and a BA in Political Science and Spanish from Appalachian State University. Jared leads CFSA’s policy team, where he supports the policy priorities of CFSA’s farmer-based membership. See the event recording here.
Cherie and Wisdom Jzar are a husband and wife duo tackling the unique and important job of urban farming. Operating on less than an acre of land, they grow a variety of different seasonal crops, raise some chickens, and practice beekeeping right here in Mecklenburg County. They also work towards educating others on the challenges and strategies of urban farming. “We’re trying to be sustainable in our lifestyle, and trying to teach others how to do the same,” says Cherie. They say that they’ve noticed an increase in the need for food since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a greater desire by the general population to be more healthy. When selling at local markets, the family believes it’s incredibly important to accept EBT payments in order to encourage healthy food access for all. Hear more about their story and experience here. Facebook and Instagram: @mrsjzarurbanfarmer
India Solomon is the Interim Executive Director of The Bulb, an organization aimed at combating food insecurity in Charlotte by organizing mobile produce markets, providing educational opportunities, and more. The Bulb identifies neighborhoods without adequate access to fresh produce and partners with them to bring in EBT-accepting mobile markets and support the community. India insists that although people generally believe her work is about food “it’s really about relationships; it’s really about people.” She has had to alter some of The Bulb’s operations, such as switching to boxed options rather than personal selection, yet has still seen a spike in clientele due to COVID-19. To hear more about her experiences and the bulb, watch her interview here! For more information on where to access a mobile produce market or how to help support the bulb, please visit https://www.thebulbgallery.org/.
Abby Wyatt is the Food Security Coordinator for Mecklenburg County. She has long worked with farmers markets to expand their accessibility, and as a result has spearheaded the SNAP Double Bucks program. Through partnership with local farmers markets, SNAP recipients can receive twice as much support to spend on fresh produce. (Click here to learn more about the SNAP Double Bucks program.) Abby notes the impacts of COVID on local food systems, some positive such as increased sales for some farmers, but primarily negative, specifically exposing the high need for food in the Charlotte area that only continues to grow. She also mentions a Pandemic EBT card, which you can find more information at here. Check out her interview here to learn more about her unique insight into the food systems in Charlotte!
Shay Merritt is the Grants and Advocacy Coordinator for Loaves & Fishes, a network of emergency food pantries serving those in need in the Charlotte area. Despite having to go entirely mobile and operate without volunteers, the group has continued to aid the community in any way possible. From providing pre-packed boxes of food to new and regular clients, to hiring part-time workers that became unemployed due to the pandemic, Shay describes the incredible work done by her and her organization. She states that “everyone should have access to enough food,” and outlines ways to receive or donate to that effort through Loaves & Fishes. Click here for more information on how to receive a referral for Loaves and Fishes’ services, or visit the Loaves & Fishes website for more information about monetary and food donations and other ways to get involved! To hear more from Shay Merritt, click here.
Dr. Iris Cheng
Position or Job Title
Dr. Iris Cheng is a doctor of internal medicine with Atrium health and a board member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council. From her upbringing on a farm through her career in the medical field, Dr. Cheng has always believed in and seen the benefits of healthy eating habits. Transversely, she has seen and studied the health impacts of living in under resourced communities that lack sustainable access to healthy food. Combined with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Cheng has noted the health challenges of those who do not have proper nutrition, funding, transportation, technology, etc. To hear more about how she’s working to combat food insecurity through a medical lens, click here. To search for low-cost social services through Atrium Health, enter your zip code here.