Face Of This Place

Conetoe-Hatteras Youth Food Equity Exchange: “Wadin’ through the Water” to Healthy Food Access, by Mikki Sager

Our Resourceful Communities team has worked with communities across the South, supporting their efforts around healthy eating and active living. These grassroots partners, faith groups and small towns have created unique and wonderful ways to engage communities and improve their access to and benefits from fresh foods. From growing and harvesting produce to increasing economic opportunity for local youth, small businesses and family farming operations, to sharing the bounty with less fortunate neighbors, our partners are building a new future full of promise for their communities and their rural landscapes.

A Tale of Two Communities

The Conetoe Family Life Center was established as a faith-based nonprofit to address persistent poverty, chronic health problems and lack of access to healthy foods in the small, rural African-American community or Conetoe, North Carolina. What started out as Reverend Richard Joyner’s vision for a 2-acre garden has blossomed into a 25-acre community farm, where free afterschool and summer day camp programs offer youth ages 4 to 18 homework help as well as the opportunity to plant, harvest, distribute and sell their own produce and honey. The young people can take fresh foods home for family meals, share with elderly neighbors and learn small business skills by selling the products at roadside stands, on a mobile market, and at grocery stores.

On Hatteras Island, another partner community, fresh seafood is available in abundance—a form of wealth that is never taken for granted.  Commercial fishing families have worked for generations to feed themselves, their communities and inland neighbors with North Carolina seafood that is “wild caught” by small fishing operations.  Yet many year-round residents here, many of whom struggle financially due to seasonal income from tourism jobs, have limited access to healthy fresh produce, which is available at premium prices due to poor soils on the island.  Island leaders heard about Conetoe’s programs several years ago and came to visit. They met with the young people, tasted food from the garden and asked, “How can we do something like this on Hatteras?” 

Conetoe Hatteras Exchange-6 c Mikki-Sager 1Youth participants in the Conetoe-Hatteras Youth Food Equity Exchange. Photo by Mikki Sager.Food, Faith and Fellowship

The Hatteras community invited Conetoe’s youth to join the annual “Day at the Docks” festival, where they learned about the significant role that African American watermen played in the Life-Saving Service, the precursor to the US Coast Guard, along the Outer Banks after the Civil War. For some, it was the first time they had ever seen the ocean. The Conetoe youth were treated to an afternoon of surf fishing, and they enjoyed the “seafood throwdown,” a competition where chefs prepared outstanding meals from fresh-caught NC seafood and Conetoe produce.

Evan Ferguson, a teacher at Cape Hatteras Secondary School for Coastal Studies, launched a “local foods” course and planned a trip for more than 20 students to visit Conetoe to begin a true healthy foods partnership.  As often happens in isolated rural places, the trip had an unexpected challenge:  parts of the main road on Hatteras were difficult to travel because of storm surges the night before.  When the students arrived and met their Conetoe counterparts, Reverend Joyner welcomed the Hatteras contingent and thanked them for “wadin’ through the water” to come to Conetoe.

The students spent a day together, getting to know each other and sharing their experiences related to food access.  They toured the 25-acre garden, the “bee bus” whose residents help in the production of healthier and tastier crops and the greenhouses where hundreds of thousands of plants are started early to ensure a long growing season. A lunch of seafood and produce brought the students together through food, faith and fellowship.

Building Connections for a Healthier Tomorrow

By working in friendship, the youth from Conetoe and Hatteras are growing their knowledge, skills and connections to craft a brighter future and build stronger, healthier communities. Their partnership continues as they foster a shared vision about food equity, and the need to increase access to healthy foods for all. We salute the young people of Conetoe and Hatteras for their commitment to healthy local food, and their willingness to work hard to make it happen!



Learn More

Conetoe Family Life Center
The Hatteras-Conetoe Connection: Exchanging healthy food and culture
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