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The World Food Policy Center (WFPC) at the Sanford School of Public Policy has launched an initiative aimed at helping Durham County and Edgecombe County, in eastern North Carolina, with ongoing efforts to become model food communities.

The model food community initiative will focus on two counties in North Carolina: Durham and Edgecombe. Durham is the sixth-most populous county in North Carolina. Edgecombe is a rural county about an hour's drive east of Raleigh. 

“We already know there is a lot being done in these communities to address food concerns,” said Jen Zuckerman, director of strategic initiatives at WFPC. “Our goal is to be able to identify what is working, how it’s working why it’s working, and then go a step further – to develop and share best practices.”

The WFPC was launched in July 2017 with $5.9 million in grants from The Duke Endowment, the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Kelly Brownell, Robert L. Flowers Professor of Public Policy and dean of the Sanford School, is the center’s director.

The model food community Initiative is part of the center’s broader mission to address fragmented approaches to food policy. Part of their goal is to define what an ideal community looks like with regard to food. It might include broader access to healthy food, food-related innovation and entrepreneurship, and policies that support optimal development in children.

For its initial activity, the WFPC will be looking into food and faith, early childhood nutrition and development, and food as an economic driver. Also of interest are current policies, resources and services related to healthy food access, hunger, and food waste, Zuckerman said.

The center has begun building partnerships with the many community groups working on food-related issues. The WFPC has already partnered with Self-Help Credit Union, the Helius Foundation and the Duke Divinity School.

“The faith community plays a vital role in assisting people in need, and food is part of what they provide,” Brownell noted. “We want to understand that role and see if model practices can be established.”

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jen Zuckerman

Zuckerman said Edgecombe County and its largest city, Rocky Mount, will be an interesting parallel to Durham. The area is more rural and less developed than Durham, but is growing much as Durham did.

In addition to their work within Durham and Edgecombe counties, the WFPC is planning a series of convenings. The convenings will bring together scholars, practitioners, and members of the community.

“We want develop ways that research can guide policymakers and how policymakers can guide research,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman joined the WFPC after 11 years at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation where she focused on increasing access to safe, active environments and providing sources for healthy, locally sourced food.

“I’m excited to be working on initiatives rooted in North Carolina for the benefit of improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians,” Zuckerman said.