Rebecca Collins is passionate about local food. She’s a graduate student at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Asheville where she’s pursuing a degree in Sustainable Studies. When she’s not learning about food, she works at the farmers market in Waynesville where she spreads the gospel of eating local.
We caught up with her at ASAP’s Local Food Experience, an evening of small plates that highlighted the culinary traditions of the Southern Appalachians. It was a cacophonous night, filled with an excited crowd and live music.
Rebecca Collins and Steven Kinsella leaned into the mic to talk about local food. Rebecca says she thinks a lot about the food system or the path that food travels from field to fork, and all the interactions between food producers, distributors, and consumers along the way.
She sees the local food system as way for people to connect with each other and with farmers to create a sustainable community. “Where would we be without farmers? They really are the backbone of our local economy,” she says.
She supports local farms because she believes that eating locally can help people build strong relationships with the natural world. “Food interacts with everything,” she says. “Everybody has to eat and I feel like our closest interaction with nature is through what we eat. I feel like when we’re trying to get messages to people about being more sustainable and protecting the environment, food is just an obvious entry point because everybody loves food.”
Steven Kinsella agrees that food is an important way to communicate the values of a community, and a vehicle to preserve the culture of our region, from tried and true favorites like collard greens to desserts that use local ingredients as inspiration. “I had a sorghum chocolate today and that’s not something you would normally get somewhere else,” he says.
While he is encouraged by the local food movement in the Southern Appalachians, he also sees patterns in the larger food system that concern him.
“I think for me, the most important thing is that everything is getting to be really homogeneous. We’re sort of distilling everything down to three or four varieties of each vegetable or each animal. It used to be this cornucopia of diversity when it comes to flavor and the way that you make food and I think it’s important to keep that alive,” he says.
For Rebecca, part of keeping these traditions alive is taking small strides that add up to bigger changes. This summer she pickled okra as a way to enjoy the vegetable all winter, and also to participate in a foodway custom that has been vital to this region for generations.
She has some advice for people who want to contribute to sustainable agriculture and make local food part of their lives.
“It’s OK if you don’t do everything perfectly when you’re trying to eat locally and eat sustainably. You don’t have to be 100 percent perfect all the time, but every little bit helps. So going to the local restaurant, buying the local cheese, every little thing you can do to eat more locally helps,” she says.
Rebecca is finishing up her degree and is already thinking about ways to improve the food system after she graduates. “There’s a lot of really exciting things going on right now in food policy that are coming to the forefront. It’s been such a grassroots thing for so long, but now organizations are getting more organized and it’s actually becoming part of the policy discussion at the state and national level, and so I’d really love to be involved with that,” she says.
Do you want to get more involved with local food? Find farms, markets, and restaurants in ASAP’s Local Food Guide. Discover more stories of people making an impact on our food system at www.soundcloud.com/growinglocal We talk to farmers, chefs, children, and community members just like you. If you have a story to share, contact us through our website: www.asapconnections.org