City Climate Corner

Asheville NC: Food Policy Action Plan

Episode Summary

Asheville, NC adopted a food policy action plan in 2013 and updated it in 2017 to ensure residents have access to healthy, nutritious food in the context of creating a thriving and resilient city. We delve into what the plan is, how it relates to climate change, and how it has impacted the city in this interview with Asheville Sustainability Coordinator Kiera Bulan and Keith McDade, a member of Asheville's Sustainability Advisory Committee and a Professor of Sustainability at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

Episode Notes

Asheville, NC adopted a food policy action plan in 2013 and updated it in 2017 to ensure residents have access to healthy, nutritious food in the context of creating a thriving and resilient city. We delve into what the plan is, how it relates to climate change, and how it has impacted the city in this interview with Asheville Sustainability Coordinator Kiera Bulan and Keith McDade, a member of Asheville's Sustainability Advisory Committee and a Professor of Sustainability at Lenoir-Rhyne University.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. 

Abby Finis  00:21

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And, I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Abby Finis  00:30

Hey, Larry. 

Larry Kraft  00:31

Hey, Abby.

Abby Finis  00:32

Are you growing any food in your yard this year?

Larry Kraft  00:36

Hmm, a little bit. We've grown more in the past, but we did a bunch of herbs this year. We have some raspberry bushes, but they seem to need some work because they haven't produced raspberries the past year or two.

Abby Finis  00:50

Interesting. Yeah, you gotta cut those back. We get a lot of raspberries. Yeah, we have a whole lot of food. That's actually, you know, we've been in a drought this summer up until this week. And, for whatever reason our gardens are doing great. Lots of tomatoes, peppers, squash...

Larry Kraft  01:10


Abby Finis  01:11

Cherry tomatoes, got some basil, grapes.

Larry Kraft  01:16

I forgot one thing that we do grow that's edible. 

Abby Finis  01:18

What is that? 

Larry Kraft  01:19


Abby Finis  01:21


Larry Kraft  01:22

Grow lots of them.

Abby Finis  01:23


Larry Kraft  01:25

Yeah..., intentionally...

Abby Finis  01:28

I did try to eat some dandelion root this spring. 

Larry Kraft  01:31


Abby Finis  01:32

It was fine. I think it was maybe a little bit kind of carrot-y in texture, if I remember correctly. And, yeah.

Larry Kraft  01:41

I did just go to an urban garden that was created over the past year in St. Louis Park by an organization called Seeds Feeds at one of our elementary schools. And, it is amazing what they're doing with all of the stuff they're growing, and how they're integrating it in with stuff that students are doing.

Abby Finis  02:02

Yeah, it's cool to see the amount of food that's just growing around the city. And they there's certainly a lot that you can pick, but it's not always clear if you're able to, you know? Whose property that's on just sneaking up and down alleys eating raspberries, I think is probably fine, right?

Larry Kraft  02:20

So, why are we talking about food Abby?

Abby Finis  02:23

Well, today we are talking to the city of Asheville, North Carolina about their food action plan, what all that entails, and how it's going to impact their city.

Larry Kraft  02:35

I'm excited to learn about what a food action plan is and how it relates to the city and climate action.

Abby Finis  02:43

Yeah, I'm just getting kind of hungry. Let's give it a listen.

Start of interview

Larry Kraft  02:51

Today we are speaking with Kiera Bulan and Keith McDade from Asheville, North Carolina. Welcome both of you, and let's start with introductions and your roles relative to Asheville. Kiera, why don't we go first with you.

Kiera Bulan  03:04

Thanks for having me here today. My name is Kiera Bulan and I am the Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Asheville's Office of Sustainability. 

Larry Kraft  03:13


Keith McDade  03:14

Hello, I'm Keith McDade, and I am a volunteer on the City's Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment. I've been doing that for the past almost six years. And, I'm also a Professor of Sustainability at Lenoir-Rhyne University here in Asheville.

Larry Kraft  03:31

Hey Kiera, can you also say what you did previously? Because I thought that was pretty interesting before you joined the City of Asheville.

Kiera Bulan  03:38

Sure! Before coming on staff here at the City of Asheville, I was the Coordinator for the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council.

Why food policy is important

Abby Finis  03:45

We're talking about food today, for the most part, and it's not really a topic that we've explored on City Climate Corner. But, it's something that's critical to health, waste, local resilience, there's climate implications and oftentimes, it's kind of a side thought or an afterthought, or it's not necessarily included at the forefront of some of these plans. Why is food so important? And what implications does it have for climate change and for community health Kiera? 

Kiera Bulan  04:12

Oh, that's a big question! I could go on for a long time. Well, I think you really hit the nail on the head there and that it's often sort of an afterthought or a supporting issue when we think about climate resilience and climate emergencies. And also, food is at the center of so many of people's lives that of course, it's a really big part of an accessible solution at the individual and household level. And, it's also a place where we can build resilience and build buy-in to understanding what our solutions and those solutions aren't just surface projects. We can really affect significant change in terms of our greenhouse gas emissions, in terms of our ecological justice, and thinking about who has access to resources, like land and soil and healthy and culturally appropriate food. All of that is wrapped up in sharing food, building community, and preserving our Earth resources through thinking about food as a critical issue.

Abby Finis  05:11

Keith, could you provide some context around food and maybe just generally about climate action in Asheville?

Keith McDade  05:20

Food is, of course, a critical part of moving towards our reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that we've been striving towards. Initially, we had some plans to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by four percent a year, but that wasn't good enough. And, our efforts to reduce food waste in particular, are really running parallel to our other efforts in the city that are around one hundred percent renewable goals and climate justice and climate resilience work that the City has been working on. Food is certainly, as Kiera mentioned, a really critical part and something that's overlooked. Without repeating what she said, I love the idea that it is something that everyone can potentially participate in, in helping towards a solution. And, I think people are looking for that. Asheville is a place where there is a strong desire for people to participate in finding solutions to many of the challenges that we face.

Abby Finis  06:18

Can you talk a little bit about, I think most people have in their minds, fossil fuels, climate change, okay, I get that, how does food contribute to climate change?

Keith McDade  06:28

Well, it does have some fossil fuel implications. All of the fossil fuel that's used, of course, to produce and ship and store and refrigerate. All of those things become part of the equation. And of course, there's the issue of if the food gets thrown into our landfill, it will produce methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And not everyone knows that, but I think some more people are becoming aware of that issue. We need to address this as a critical piece of the whole big puzzle.

Adopting a Food Action Plan

Larry Kraft  07:00

Can you talk about the evolution of food policy in Asheville? How did the City come to adopt a Food Action Plan?

Kiera Bulan  07:08

Well, the City of Asheville is a real mecca of people who love food in all different ways. There's a vibrant restaurant scene, there's a vibrant local farm scene, there's people who care very much about food and the private sector and individual home sector and the nonprofit sector is full of organizations that are looking to improve our food system. And, so I think that's sort of a baseline of just engagement and interest in food as a topic in Asheville that has a long history of food and food traditions here. 

Kiera Bulan  07:40

The Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council came into formal organization as an entity in 2011. So that also has a now ten year history, as an organization, formally bringing people together to talk not only about food, food access, and growing food, but about how to leverage policy change to support a better food system here for our community locally and regionally in the Asheville area. And, that originally was formed around trying to raise the awareness of those issues at the City Council level. And, bringing together thinking groups and acting groups, and really kind of recognizing that what often happens around issues that people are really passionate about, that there's lots of people going off in individual directions. And, understanding that in order to move policy work forward, it's important to have an umbrella and trying to make those bridges and connections across organizations and entities who are putting their heart and soul into this work. 

Kiera Bulan  08:37

So, that was the original formation in 2011, and over the course of time, and originally in 2013, the Food Policy Council put together the initial Food Policy Action Plan that was passed at the City Council level. And, really as an acknowledgement, taking the ground like food policy matters to us as a City, as individuals, as residents, citizens, and to us as City Council adopting a more visionary Food Policy Action Plan that really just said: this is important to us and we're going to figure out how to really dig into this with our work. 

Kiera Bulan  08:57

We revisited that original Food Policy Action Plan in 2016. And, 17 was the acknowledgement that there was interest in giving it a little bit more teeth, trying to figure out what are actionable items. How can we really continue to move this forward understanding that there's interest in buy in from across the sectors? And, that resulted in our revised 2017 Food Policy Action Plan, which is really a product of talking to people who are doing the work, gathering as much information and data as we could, internally from individuals departments within the City that were doing that work, and also, most importantly, stakeholders and community members that are out there holding that space in our community to put together what we hoped was at the time an aspirational plan and also a boots on the ground plan. 

Kiera Bulan  08:57

There are elements of this Food Policy Action Plan that are really outside of the purview of what it is the City as an entity at an organization would do. Acknowledging that it was all climate issues, but also including food, that there are no geographical boundaries. In fact, it's a disservice to the project if we were to put exact geographical boundaries on what food system issues are. In order to come up with solutions, ideas, and actionable items, we have to understand and build up that partnership across our regional organizations, in government and outside of government.

What’s in the plan

Larry Kraft  10:37

So what kind of things are included in the plan? And, how do you prioritize the things that you work on?

Kiera Bulan  10:44

That is a great question. And, that was, in fact, the question of City Council, when we first came forward in 2017 with the proposed Food Policy Action Plan. We wanted to say this is a lot and it feels important to present a lot because the food system is complicated. And, in order for us to understand it, acknowledge the interconnectedness of food emergency preparedness and food access and food education we have to present it all. And also, we want to be able to dig into it and not overwhelm ourselves or others. With the adoption of the Food Policy Action Plan, there was also a prioritization of two things. One is growing more food in the city and the second is figuring out how to track metrics and quantify that information as we go forth and try to strengthen partnerships that exists, build new partnerships, strengthen programs that exist, build new programs, and that is an ongoing challenge. But, an important challenge. We wanted to put it out there, you know, at the get go, that we have to figure out how to crack this nut.

Larry Kraft  11:49

Okay, I got to ask the follow up question then. What's an example of set metrics? And, I'm kind of a metric guy on our Council here so you've piqued my interest.

Kiera Bulan  11:59

Good! Well, there is a lot to be learned, and I'll give you a small example. Knowing that one of our priorities is grow more food in the city, we had to ask ourselves, well, how much food is being grown in the city? The first thing, the first action that we performed, in partnership with the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council and the Office of Sustainability, was to do an inventory of the City of Asheville properties and food that's grown on City of Asheville properties. And fortunately, there is quite a bit of edibles on public property in Asheville, but that went, you know, talking to Parks and Rec, talking to Public Works and Street Tree Services, working with IT and figuring out, okay, what's the public right away? And, where are all the service berries? To the best of our ability, to really dig into mapping this inventory of where is the food being grown in the city? We created that inventory, and we created a baseline Asheville Edibles Map to be able to say, "Okay, here's what we know," with the intention of being able to continue to build that out and use that as a place for us to track both internally, what what are we doing on city property? Because, that comes back to that idea and that question of what falls in to what the City has ownership or agency over to impact direct change on versus like, education outreach and partnership, which is slightly different opportunity for effecting change. 

Kiera Bulan  13:23

The Asheville Edibles Map has what's happening in the City and then had an opportunity for people to add crowdsource information. So, like community garden could enter itself onto that. If you had a raspberry bush that felt like you wanted people to browse it as you walk by on the sidewalk, you can enter your Raspberry bush or your Apple tree etc, etc. That's a work in progress, as all things are, and actually included in this year's contract work with the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council is a revision of that map in order to continue to have it be as functional and interactive as possible. And, so we've learned some from the first iteration, which was published in 2019 and we're moving, tweaking, thinking about both how can it be a better resource publicly? And also, how can it serve this desire for metrics and data tracking around public edibles?

Abby Finis  14:17

That makes me think about there's a whole world of foragers, urban foragers, on Tick Tock, and I wonder like, you know, how much can you use social media and like, how much food is actually available that we're not even aware that it's food, you know? You mentioned serviceberries a lot of people don't know you can eat serviceberries 

Keith McDade  14:35

They do here though, everyone knows. 

Abby Finis  14:37

Of course! Asheville is the exception.

Keith McDade  14:40

They line up with buckets in our parking lot because we have about twelve Serviceberry trees every June. 

Abby Finis  14:45

What do they do with the service berries? 

Keith McDade  14:48

Well, you eat them, you put them in your granola.

Relationship to Climate Action Plan

Larry Kraft  14:54

So how have you thought about this? Does it relate to the Climate Action Plan? It's a separate document from the Climate Action Plan. Some communities have things within their plans, like how does it interrelate to the climate work going on in Asheville?

Kiera Bulan  15:10

It's unknown at this point. We have what we call our Sustainability Management Plan, which is an outdated document, a we're currently just contract signed last week, beginning our municipal Climate Action Plan process. The intention of that process is the municipal Climate Action Plan, so internal operations. The intention of that is to help us to bring together all these various goals and resolutions, which have been passed in the last however many years since the Sustainability Management Plan. So, that includes the Food Policy Action Plan, and our climate emergency, which has overlapping content, certainly, and calls out food directly. And, our energy goals, our waste reduction goals, we just have any number of different projects that we're juggling that all overlap, because it's all related to climate. What we're hoping to be able to do through this process or the plan through this process, to be able to streamline that and to be as efficient and effective as possible in coming up with strategies that are going to tick boxes across these various goals and resolutions that we've put forward. So stay tuned.

Larry Kraft  16:22

All right.

Food deserts / food apartheid

Abby Finis  16:23

Yeah, I was looking through the objectives that are included in the plan. And, just the first one off the bat, you know, is supporting access for people who live in food deserts. And, that's tied to a later one on transit. Can you first describe what food deserts are? And, you know, how does this fit into the whole kind of system? I mean, I keep asking the big questions I know about like, tell us the whole world of how these things are all related to each other. But, you know, thinking about food deserts and how does that relate to transit and mobility access for people as well?

Kiera Bulan  17:02

I'll start by acknowledging that the term that we included in here, food deserts, feels like an antiquated terminology. And, our preference is to really acknowledge the long history of how these neighborhoods in our community, and most communities, around the country have come to be in the position that they're in with limited access to healthy culturally appropriate food, to transit, and to other resources. And, so more appropriately, we think about this as food apartheid. It's a place where systematically people have been left out of the equation. Understanding, and I'll point to a resource that we have completed that's not necessarily part of our quote unquote, food work, but I think helps us to hone in on how there are multiple opportunities and multiple issues, compounding factors that are affecting the same neighborhoods again and again and again, as a result of redlining as a as a result of misallocation of resources as a result of the world that we live in. 

Kiera Bulan  18:04

And so we did create, we finalized this last fall, we have a climate justice data map, and that's available on our website. And, that climate justice data map takes in a number of different resources from the census, the social vulnerability index, to research that was conducted around our Climate Resilience Assessment and understanding what are the climate threats in our communities, and where are these compounding factors really overlapping in a significant way. And, really pointing out things that we really already knew and here's data to support it. These are the neighborhoods that are hit again, and again, and again, and these are our BIPOC communities, these are communities of color, these are our frontline communities. And, those are the places where it's hardest to access fresh food. It's the grocery stores are the farthest away. There are not necessarily, or not often, farmer's markets or fresh food access in as much or in as easy and accessible way as there are in other neighborhoods. 

Kiera Bulan  19:03

There's a lot of work to do here in working in right relationship with community, to be led by community, to understand appropriate solutions, quote, unquote, to what people need and want, and the resources that are in those communities that should be activated and motivated to lead solutions around what it takes to have better access to culturally appropriate, healthy, and affordable food for people. And also, that's one of the places where really understanding the maps and the data just tells so many visual stories about how food deserts overlap with our climate emergency. And, with other available or not available resources for people, energy burden is another factor out there and also overlaps in that space.

Abby Finis  19:54

Can you maybe highlight an example, in thinking about you know, I think you mentioned earlier the City can't do this all alone, we need community effort, we need partnerships. And then, you just mentioned empowering communities or allowing communities to kind of set their own pathway. Do you have examples for how that's working in Asheville and how you work with community members maybe growing food or accessing food, or however you might do it?

Kiera Bulan  20:22

I think we know what we don't know. We're about a year and change into a project called our Climate Justice Initiative, which is really an intentional project to learn from and understand how to best support existing leadership in our communities around identifying, defining, naming, and ultimately figuring out how to co-create solutions to climate emergencies as they evolve. And, so that includes food emergencies, of course, it includes health emergencies, like we're living through, climate emergencies, which is an umbrella that touches all of those. And so through this Climate Justice Project, we are talking to people, which government always does. We're trying to talk to people in ways that is respectful and non-extractive, and also is cyclical: that there's conversations, that there's learning, and there's checking back in. And then, there's figuring out together, building that trust, and understanding how and in what ways we're able to move forward. It's long and slow and nonlinear. And, I don't know. I still know what we don't know and that's about all. But, I think, you know, the opportunity to cultivate that process was what we're really excited about, and trying to have that long-term process really informed ideas, projects, programs, and collaborations as they evolve.

Keith McDade  21:52

Yeah, I think that this even started at all is a really big step forward. There's a lot more work to do and it's gonna happen at the pace, I think some people say the pace of trust, and the pace of relationship, and the ways that the communities at the center wanted to move. I think that that makes a whole lot of sense.

Abby Finis  22:14

Yeah, I think one of the things that's cool about food or being able to grow gardens, and spaces is, if the city is willing to kind of step back and enable these things to occur, a lot of really cool spots pop up and people are willing to dig in. It's awesome that you guys are going down that path.

Kiera Bulan  22:35

Yeah, I think that's true. And I guess I'll piggyback on that a little bit with a little bit more of a tangible answer as well. One of the things that we do in our office, the Office of Sustainability, in addressing the Food Policy Action Plan, is to partner with not only the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council, but also the Bountiful Cities Project. And they are out in the community with managing community garden network, helping support our edible park development and maintenance, in partnership with neighborhood organizations and some of our city parks that do have edible plantings: George Washington Carver Park and Tempe Avery Park and two of our community recreation centers. And so, we are supporting that organization in doing direct hands-on education about growing food, about preparing food that's locally available, managing the community garden network, holding up the facilitation that's necessary for that community garden network to be well connected, and exchange those resources horizontally among gardeners. Just as you said, understanding that they're the leaders in that space, and how can we support them in that work and understand that work as our shared work.

Keith McDade  23:46

There's a really interesting project here that doesn't necessarily work with the City, they used to be called Patchwork Urban Farms, and they're now a Patchwork Urban Network, perhaps, I'm not sure they are a coop now. They essentially utilize property all over within the city limits that they have an exchange with the landowners on and then they run it. They used to run it like a CSA, and now it's run more like an online shopping opportunity. It's just a really wonderful, I think, very innovative way of utilizing what used to be lawns or unused land to grow food and to distribute it in ways that allow easy, local access for lots of people, and that's that's a wonderful process.

Kiera Bulan  24:32

And, one of the hopes actually around the Asheville Edibles Map 2.0, or maybe 3.0 at this point, the revision that is currently happening in partnership with the Food Policy Council, is an interest in helping better connect the Patchwork Network with landowners that may have land; they have done that on their own in the past and they've done it very successfully. But, they've also said to the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council, and through them to us, "Can this be integrated in this map?" As we think about public crowdsource information, networking, and connecting people with resources to people who need resources, and all the ways like this, hopefully, you know, we're all figuring out the next platform. But, that's an example of having that infrastructure and being flexible, and hopefully being able to support the direct connection of market growers and people with land. As we all know, when you think about land, that's one of our primary challenges, especially in urban areas, that land is extremely expensive and inaccessible, and usually a little far out so hard to get to, this part of that solution if it's possible.

Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council

Larry Kraft  25:43

Kiera, you spoke earlier, and you used to run the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council. I'd like to get a little bit more about what that organization is, who makes up it, how did it get started, and just a little bit more about because it sounds like it's had a big role in the evolution of food policy in Asheville.

Kiera Bulan  26:03

Sure, I can speak to that a little bit! I joined the Food Policy Council as the Coordinator in 2016. So, there is five or so years of history that are before my time of actually being actively engaged. The organization did come together as a sort of opportunity to overcome some of the silos within the various organizations that are doing this good work on the town, and to raise the profile of food and food issues at the city-government level. That was the original intention in 2011. 

Kiera Bulan  26:32

Currently, the structure is a working group structure. There's interest area themes that are defined by members, individuals who are interested in participating at the policy level. There's a very strong delineation that they're really good at holding the line at between program development and policy. Because, and acknowledging, that there's a strong network of food related program organizations in town. And, wanting to make sure that this entity exists in order to bring those organizations together and understand, and if possible, eliminate policy related barriers to work that those program organizations are doing on the ground. 

Kiera Bulan  27:14

The current structure has an Emergency Food Preparedness Working Group. So, thinking about how to work on the neighborhood level, really giving people tools, developing tools, pilot project templates around helping people develop neighborhood specific: Hyperlocal Emergency Food Plans, building on the resources and the connections that are already there and those communities. The Food Policy Action Plan Working Group, people really with an eye towards how to both hold the City accountable to the Food Policy Action Plan and how to support the City in implementing in partnership with community the Food Policy Action Plan. 

Kiera Bulan  27:53

There's a Food Waste Working Group, so that group works closely with our office and the Food Waste Solutions Western North Carolina, which is another network entity in the area. There has been activity around present use valuation at the county level and thinking about community and trying to see if there's an opportunity for Community Trust Fund development at the county level. So who participates? Anyone who's actively interested: individuals, people who will participate with their work hat on, from their individual organizations or entities, and then just invested citizens here.

Keith McDade  28:33

You had a question about the food deserts and initially, I remember there was a really strong focus on that in 2012, when I showed up. Parts of Asheville were more food insecure than most any other where in the state. People were really shocked, as Kiera was saying earlier about this food utopia, and you know, there's so much good food here and yet, there's so much lack of access. And, I think that was a really strong rallying point and there were city council members, or at least one, very strongly involved with the initial formation of this. There were, I remember, hundreds of people, literally, showing up to some of the early meetings. I do think that Bountiful Cities has played a really important role in being a foundation within that larger network, and there's all sorts of others, Cooperate WMC, and all sorts of other groups that are working on really interesting work that are all being connected through that and through other channels.

Food Matters Regional Initiative with NRDC

Larry Kraft  29:31

I was reading also that Asheville is in a Food Matters Regional Initiative with the NRDC. Can you speak a little bit to what that is and what benefit you've seen from that?

Kiera Bulan  29:44

Sure, yeah! This is a really exciting project that we just launched a year ago, so in June of 2020. And really, the reason that we decided to pursue this, shortly after I joined the office, is because there has been a strong interest and foundation of food waste reduction work across organizations and entities in the region. And, a lot of interest from residents in the city figuring out ways to do more. There's been requests for how can we possibly do more composting? How can we do better with our waste reduction goals? How does food play into that? And so we understood opportunities and then, you know, from inside city government, we also know there are significant challenges to what we can do on the composting realm. That's sort of where there's been a lot of community energy. 

Kiera Bulan  30:37

While not being able to crack the curbside composting nut, just yet, we knew that there's a lot of work that could be done, between here and there, if the city could take a little more proactive role to tackling and thinking about our own food waste reduction initiatives. We applied for this Technical Assistance grant through the Natural Resource Defense Council, and were selected as part of the Southeast Regional Cohort, which includes Atlanta, Orlando, Nashville, Memphis, and little old Asheville. We're a much smaller city than some of those others that are doing this work in the region, but they let us in anyway. Nashville is the anchor city and they've been working with NRDC for several years to sort of develop materials, resources, pilots, and programs. There's all kinds of publicly available resources through the NRDC website that we have access to, in addition to this sort of like think tank of city government employees, trying to figure out how to tackle these problems at the city government level. 

Kiera Bulan  31:39

Yeah, so we joined that cohort in June and we created our work plan for the first year, which included four strategies: creating a proclamation declaring April 2021, food waste reduction month; we're doing some community compost developments; highlighting a food scrap drop off that's processed by a local compost hauler; doing food waste audits of our city facilities, what's coming out of our own buildings; and, how can we kind of move the needle a little bit on that. And then finally, an outreach and education campaign, just supporting and lifting up the work of food waste solutions, western North Carolina, and building a website landing page for those resources that's really kind of community owned. We're a little bit into our second year of that program now. And, we're really trying to identify ways that we can pilot programs and demonstrate their impact and figure out what we can carry on beyond the scope of our official food matters cohort involvement.

Keith McDade  32:40

I'm just thinking about the beauty of experimentation and some of the challenges we face around that and thinking about the community compost drop off site as being a critical step forward and thinking about how might we do this on a more widespread basis. And, one of our challenges here is unusual, which is that we have a lot of bears in our city. Bears love food scraps. And it can be hard to even backyard compost for some people. Finding ways to develop these potential sites where people can drop off their scraps will be a huge step forward.

Abby Finis  33:11

Bear proof drop off. 

Larry Kraft  33:13

That's kind of interesting. 

Keith McDade  33:15

Today was my day where they come down the hill and they look around and...yeah. Anyway.

Abby Finis  33:20

What did you leave for them, Keith?

Keith McDade  33:22

I don't leave them anything. I say go eat those berries, anyway.

Abby Finis  33:27

Serviceberries, put it on your toast bear.

Larry Kraft  33:30

And then they battle with the residents to get the service berries, is that the deal? 

Keith McDade  33:33

Sometimes, sometimes. I have seen that happening.

Most excited about

Abby Finis  33:38

Well, you're doing a lot of really cool stuff. What are you most excited about that's coming up, looking ahead?

Keith McDade  33:45

I'm excited about all the things that we've talked about here today. But, I'm also really excited about the efforts that we're making towards one hundred percent renewable at the community level. One of the things that we didn't mention is that we had this joint program between the City, the county and the utility called the Energy Innovation Task Force, and that ran for several years in the mid-decade. They were really identifying how might we keep Duke Energy, our utility, from building another natural gas peaker power plant. They were able to identify strategies that did stop that natural gas peaker plant from being built. 

Keith McDade  34:25

And related to that, there is a new nonprofit that has been developed, that is positioned slightly differently than a city, county, or utility, to be able to work on one hundred percent renewables, right alongside the food. And so, I don't want to take away from all of our wonderful efforts on the many things related to food, but I'm really excited also about our potential movement towards one hundred percent renewable. There's a new community council that's advising that process and there's a new planning process that's just getting started. It's wide open right now, and I think that there's great potential. And of course, we have to have hope. It's going to be really hard. It's going to be really hard. And all of these things are signs of the many efforts we need to make to move the needle, but I'm very excited about the potential.

Abby Finis  35:19

Kiera, what are you excited about?

Kiera Bulan  35:21

You know, my enthusiasm for food comes from a career of life, time, and food. So. that's my experience area, that's my interest, and that's my lens for thinking about my work in sustainability. But, I've really enjoyed stepping into this role in this office, because I have the opportunity to work with some of my brilliant colleagues and thinking about our energy goals. 

Kiera Bulan  35:45

What I'm excited about is being able to really tie those threads together, and really think about some of the questions we were talking about earlier in this conversation, is that for me, food is that nexus point, and there is an opportunity for individual engagement. But, it also can go all the way up to renewable energy and thinking about our sourcing and thinking about our transportation. I think we have some really exciting energy projects on the horizon and people are jazzed about that work. I feel some responsibility and enthusiasm to bring food into those conversations and food waste reduction is one of the ways that it's most tangible, you know? We can really look at our greenhouse gas emissions and we can really think about well what happens if we don't place it in the first place? And, how can we go upstream with that? I'm excited to continue to infiltrate those other conversations going on at the community and municipal levels.

Keith McDade  36:46

I'm also really excited that people are paying a lot more attention to climate now. And I love that, and yeah, that the food is is an access point for a lot of people. The awareness seems to be increasing significantly in these last two years. I think that brings with it potentially some momentum, even though we have a lot of other challenges that are obviously right in front of our face as we move through a pandemic and the other challenges of the day.

Larry Kraft  37:13

Do you have any advice for other cities considering creating a food plan?

Kiera Bulan  37:20

I guess my best advice for that is go to the food producers that are already out there doing the work. You know, we love our plans and city government and plans are important ways to hold ourselves accountable, an d like most activities. But, I think maybe even more so in food. There are people out there actively creating the solutions. Sometimes, we can play the most important role of knitting those various projects together. But, definitely hit the pavement and do it in collaboration with community members who are doing that work already.

Abby Finis  37:57

Well, thank you both for joining us today. That was a great conversation!

Kiera Bulan  38:02

Thank you for having us and for hosting these conversations! We just have so much to learn from other cities doing this work. I just welcome the opportunity to connect with those cities and I'm very excited to go back and listen to the other podcasts.

Abby and Larry debrief

Larry Kraft  38:19

Okay, Abby. What are your takeaways? Maybe we should use a different word because takeaway makes me think about food takeout.

Abby Finis  38:29

With compostable containers. 

Larry Kraft  38:32

Right, exactly. 

Abby Finis  38:33

There's a lot going on there. And, you know, just kind of thinking about that, how's food integrated into these other areas? Does it make sense to be kind of a stand alone plan? And, even if it's a stand alone plan, there's all sorts of interactions between different things. If you think about the concept of food deserts and having food deserts in a place that is supposed to be a foodie place, right, and how do we acknowledge that and overcome those? And, thinking about it as part of this larger system of transportation access, of jobs, of being able to afford food, having time to grow food, and all of those different things. I liked how Kiera mentioned that she thinks about food as the nexus because it is both a nexus in community gatherings, and it's something that brings people together, right? If you think about some of your best experiences with people, oftentimes, there's really good food involved.

Larry Kraft  39:31

Yeah. And, one other term that she raised was this concept of food apartheid and how the food deserts link in with so many other historic injustices and parts of our communities.

Abby Finis  39:47

She's right. It's compounded. I think that cities are starting to acknowledge it and are aware, but like climate change, like COVID, we've got to hit the accelerator on this and work with people to identify solutions to address a lot of these issues. In this conversation, food is a great way to bring people together and talk through issues and previous conversations around green infrastructure, trees, and beautification. And just those, coming back to those people based solutions, and bringing people together, it seems like is a really solid way to go to get buy-in, to build community, and to be able to move forward.

Larry Kraft  40:32

I was interested and impressed with how this effort got going. It felt very grassroots-y with this Asheville Buncombe Food Policy group that got into existence about ten years ago. I was interested when she was giving advice at the end and saying, "Hey, make sure you go to the people that are involved in doing the work. There's a lot of great stuff going on out there if you're looking to create a new plan."

Abby Finis  40:56

Yeah, it makes me think about this concept of emergent strategy, which is a concept of book by Adrian Marie Brown, who's kind of a scholar of Octavia Butler, and I can't believe this is the first time I'm bringing up Octavia Butler. But, it's basically like, how do we not try to prescribe too many things, but we let different things emerge? And we follow that path to be able to shape our own future in a way that we want to. It really seems like there's that opportunity here in Asheville to work with community members. And, Kiera said go to the group, the food producers, they know how we carve out those pathways forward and be willing to be flexible about the different strategies that emerge and how we can harness those and build upon them. 

Larry Kraft  41:43

I think one of my last takeaways might be around composting and the unique challenges that Asheville seems to have, you know what I mean?

Abby Finis  41:52

Bears, I do. Yeah. There's a bear over there!

Larry Kraft  41:56

Bears were not an obstacle for St. Louis Park for starting composting, so wow! 

Abby Finis  42:02

Yeah! I think about that, though, like kind of practical terms is, I guess, backyard composting and you're gonna leave the food scraps there until they become dirt. But, hauling that away, maybe you avoid that problem, or it's as much of a problem as any trash or recycling that you have.

Larry Kraft  42:19

I guess you just need bear proof compost.

Abby Finis  42:25

Put some cayenne pepper on there or something to keep them out. 

Larry Kraft  42:28

All right. 

Abby Finis  42:31

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  42:54

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft,. Edited by me. Our Production Assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by ...

Abby Finis  43:03

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  43:05

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.