Policy. Advocacy. Change.


Community Profile: Kiera Bulan of the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council

| By Frances Nevill |

Asheville’s vibrant food community is made up of many people and organizations working tirelessly to tackle the broad landscape of issues related to all-things-food – everything from food insecurity, to hunger, to poverty, to access to land, and farmland preservation, to name a few. One of those people is Kiera Bulan of the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council (ABFPC). Bulan joined the Food Policy Council last fall after moving to the area with her family, bringing with her a long history of working on farms and food-related nonprofits.

Kiera Bulan of the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council (ABFPC)

“I actually got my start when I worked on a farm in England while I was in college,” recalls Bulan. “We were pruning apple trees and picking strawberries in high tunnels in rainy England for the summer. And I realized I really liked this work. I wasn’t connected to the food system as I have come to understand it as such a nexus point, but this definitely was my beginning.”

Bulan would go on to accept an Americorp position at a community land trust in Providence, Rhode Island where she worked on urban education initiatives and community gardens. Later, as a professional, she worked on farms, at farmers markets, and with agricultural non-profits throughout the East coast, most recently as the Executive Director of Fairshare CSA Coalition in Wisconsin.

Now, in her first year in Asheville, she has been getting acquainted with the Asheville food community and all the issues surrounding the Food Policy Council’s work. Although people working on food issues are familiar with the ABFPC, there are many who might be unfamiliar with who they are and how they work.

“The Food Policy Council brings together stakeholders, governmental entities, nonprofits, and people who are working in different ways to address food system issues,” says Bulan. “We exist in order to help connect different groups in order to advance city and county policies that support more food production and increase access to fresh food across diverse communities. We are interested in working together across organizations and entities to come up with creative solutions to complicated challenges.”

The Council achieves their work though “clusters” or working groups organized by subject. The current clusters are: water, access, farmer support, and land use.

“The clusters meet on a monthly basis, determine their priorities, and move their own projects along in collaboration with the organizations running those programs,” says Bulan. “Then the clusters bring back information and recommendations to the General Council, and to the community at large. We aim to work collaboratively and to expand our capacity to move policies forward by engaging networks and building on the good work and expertise in our community.”

While Asheville has a renowned reputation as being a “Foodtopia,” there are still challenges with access to food. A study in 2013 listed Asheville as the 9th largest metropolitan area struggling with food insecurity.

“More than one in five people have a food hardship,” says Bulan. “That means there are challenges accessing fresh, healthy food. Our primary focus at this moment is working on recommended revisions to the City of Asheville’s Food Policy Action Plan. Our plan addresses issues like food access, emergency preparedness, and food production and processing. The revisions build on and expand the City’s 2013 plan, incorporating community feedback and priorities. We anticipate presenting the revised plan to City Council this summer.

The challenges continue, but Bulan is optimistic about the future of food in Asheville. “I think one of the real assets and challenges in our community are the number of organizations that care deeply about this kind of work. So it’s important that the ABFPC is helping to bring stakeholders together and create a space where we are driving food policy forward together. We have a lot of people in this community who not only care about food issues, but are determined and committed to solving problems.”

Taking stock: Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council’s year in review

A NEW PLAN: Kiera Bulan took on the role of coordinator for the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council in October. Pictured here at the group’s Dec. 8 annual meeting of the whole held at Toy Boat Community Art Space, Bulan’s first task as coordinator is to work with council members and city officials to redraft Asheville's Food Action Plan.

A NEW PLAN: Kiera Bulan took on the role of coordinator for the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council in October. Pictured here at the group’s Dec. 8 annual meeting of the whole held at Toy Boat Community Art Space, Bulan’s first task as coordinator is to work with council members and city officials to redraft Asheville’s Food Action Plan. Photo by Cindy Kunst

It’s been several years since the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau trademarked the term “Foodtopia,” but for some area residents, that moniker remains a bitter joke. A 2013 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center ranked the Asheville metropolitan statistical area ninth in its list of the nation’s hungriest cities and found that 1 in 5 residents had experienced “food hardship.”

Other prior studies had yielded similarly alarming results, prompting community activists and advocates to form the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council in 2011. Since then, the group has served as a watchdog, urging the city to formally endorse the Food Action Plan — which lays out 14 steps for reducing food insecurity in the region — and pulling together a core of volunteers and organizers to help develop local food policy.

“We spent much of this last year working through the development of our internal governing documents,” says Food Policy Council member Nicole Hinebaugh. “We created the policies and procedures necessary to enable an organization like ours to make smooth and consistent decisions, transitions and structural developments, in order to become more effective and efficient in our operations and our work in the community.”

One of those transitions was hiring a new coordinator, Kiera Bulan. Hinebaugh says the council chose Bulan because she had “the right combination of a long and varied history of relevant professional experiences and skill sets, and also possessed the thoughtful, energetic and warm personality we were looking for.”

Bulan came on board in October, having moved here from Maine with her family. She previously worked on farmer training and food access projects in Providence, R.I., and Madison, Wis. Her initial focus here will be working with Amber Weaver, the city’s chief sustainability officer, and members of the group’s General Council, to redraft the Food Action Plan.

“Our hope is not to completely revise the previous plan,” says Bulan, “but to offer some revisions and also add new items and work with the structure to make it a more actionable plan, where we can trace progress and hold both the city and the community more accountable to moving the needle forward.”

At this point, Bulan says she’s still trying to get a handle on the situation. “The city is saying, ‘Look at all these great things we’ve done!’ And the community is saying, ‘The city hasn’t done anything.’ I don’t have my own opinion on that yet, because I’m so new.

“What I do know, as a total outsider, is that the Food Action Plan is a list of 14 relatively vague points. You can make the argument that lots of them have been addressed, and you can make the argument that nothing has happened. I’d like to have our plan be more actionable and more benchmark-oriented, so we can really say at the end of six months or a year, here’s what we did and here’s what we didn’t do. That’s the goal.”

The council has seen its share of changes this year. The community-based organization consists of what it calls “clusters” of individual volunteers, each with their own expertise and focus. Clusters often come and go, depending on a situation’s urgency and the level of interest among active volunteers.

Currently there are four standing clusters: Food Access, Farmer Support, Land Use and Water. “The only real change to the cluster format came with the decision to shift Policy Mobilization from a full-time cluster to an as-needed working group,” says Hinebaugh. “This group will now come together only when specific policy objectives and recommendations are submitted by the clusters.”

In the meantime, a Dec. 8 “meeting of the whole” — an open event designed to allow community members to contribute to the conversation — gave the Food Policy Council a chance to reflect on its accomplishments and the necessary steps moving forward.

For her part, says Bulan, “My priority in coming into the position has literally just been meeting people and listening.” She says she appreciates the progress the organization has already made.

“The cluster structure,” Bulan points out, “seems like a strength, in that people can take their passion and be autonomous, and there are a lot more opportunities to be collaborative as a council — to take those initiatives that clusters are researching and passionate about, and bring them forward.”


Community responds to City of Asheville’s removal of edible trees in George Washington Carver Edible Park


On Friday, September 23rd four mature fruit trees were cut down at Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park in Asheville.

Members of the regional food community have come together to condemn this action and demand improved communications between the City of Asheville and community members. The significance of this park as the nation’s first community food forest can not be overstated. Discussions on lighting, community safety, and planning for the future care of remaining mature and new edible plantings are ongoing.

Read the public letter released by the Urban Agriculture Alliance HERE (and like UAA on facebook!).

Check out the WLOS coverage of the incident HERE.

Following the incident, the AB Food Policy Council collected feedback and input from key stakeholders to craft a response letter to City Council, read the letter HERE.

Feedback was solicited from a wide net of community stakeholders, responses were collected from concerned individuals and representatives of the following community groups:

  • Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council Cluster representatives
  • Bountiful Cities
  • Community Garden Network
  • Fruit and Nut Club
  • Tree Commission representatives
  • Urban Agriculture Alliance members

Asheville-Buncombe Council on Food Policy Meets

Updated: Friday, July 31 2015, 11:27 PM EDT (Reposted from WLOS.com on August 10, 2015)


Click the picture to watch the live coverage of the event

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Local farmers, producers and food banks came together on Friday to discuss ways to create a thriving food system in Buncombe County.

This is the first* public round table discussion for the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council.

Organizers say Asheville is seen as a “foodtopia”, but a lot of people still have trouble accessing healthy food, and their goal is to change that.

“We want to foster hope and a sense that we can do something and we have the power to make changes and also to connect resources across lines,” Mary Ellen Lough with the council said.

Lough says she hopes the ideas can turn into policy changes that will make healthy food options available and accessible for everyone.

*Note: This event was not the ABFPC’s first public round table discussion ever, but the first of this year. It is our current practice to hold two public Meetings of the Whole per year.


New coordinator takes the helm at Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council

The Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council took a major step forward when it hired Mary Ellen Lough as its first paid coordinator in June. Lough, a Haywood County native, UNC Asheville graduate and mother of five, has more than a decade of experience as a social activist and community organizer.

As the former vice president of Fisher Park, a recreation area in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia, she was instrumental in helping develop community gardens to supply food for residents in need. After leaving Philadelphia, she and her family relocated to the United Kingdom where she worked with World Harvest in London supporting fair-trade organizations working with Southeast Asian immigrants.

“I’ve always been thinking a lot about regional economics, local and urban agriculture; that’s always been a focus in my life,” she says. “But when we were overseas, I realized that fair trade wasn’t enough, which has moved me more towards local resilience and local systems that can weather a changing global economy.”

With its decision to hire a part-time paid coordinator, the all-volunteer council aims to reduce volunteers’ stress and workload, hopefully enabling everyone within the organization to be more productive. The grant that funds Lough’s position provides compensation for 15 hours per week for six months expiring in December, so one of Lough’s main goals of the coming months is to secure more funding for the position itself.

Despite being completely volunteer-driven since its inception in 2011, the ABFPC has been active, successfully pushing for local government policy permitting urban farming and to allow farmers to have streetside stands to sell their goods. The group also helped develop Buncombe County’s Community Health Improvement Process, or CHIP program, which assesses health gaps in food systems and works to bring fresh, healthy, local foods and produce into the area’s food deserts.

“There are several food deserts in Asheville,” Lough explains, “places where people don’t have access to healthy food within a mile of their neighborhood or community. One solution has been to get convenience stores to carry produce and local options for people in their neighborhoods.

“There is a lot of talent and expertise on this council,” she adds. “It’s made up of a lot of amazing who are all doing really great work in our community, but until now, there’s been no one who has been able to step forward to build the capacity of the council to meet its goals. So we’re hoping to maximize the potential that the Food Policy Council already has to be a strategic and effective organization in the community.”


Hiring New Coordinator Position


Asheville, NC: The Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council (ABFPC) has been awarded its first funding in the amount of $9,000 from the Appalachian Foodshed Project (AFP). The 2015 Community Enhancement Grant will further the work of the council to more effectively support a sustainable local food system by connecting and collaborating with other community groups to increase awareness and actions to improve food security and food policy locally. “Being an all-volunteer organization, we have not had the resources or capacity to support the needs of the community. We hope this grant is the first of many to sustain our work going forward. Today, we posted a job listing for a paid part-time coordinator position that will enable us to function as the needed backbone organization to link our community together in the ever growing Collective Impact efforts around food security in the Asheville Buncombe area.” Collective Impact brings diverse organizations together with a common agenda and a goal of solving a social problem. Because the ABFPC is an organization that addresses the intersectionality of the issue of food security, the council is in the optimal position to provide this vital role.

The AFP awarded a total of $27,000 to five projects (three continuing projects, and two new projects) in the Appalachian region of North Carolina. The ABFPC and the four other funded projects will continue to build on solid work already happening in the region while increasing access to local, fresh foods, creating new opportunities for collaboration, and building capacity for advocacy and action. 

The Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council is a county-level organization founded in 2011. It is currently a growing network in Buncombe County with members representing county agencies, non -profits, entrepreneurs, and concerned citizens.  Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council supports vibrant farms, healthy people, strong communities, thriving local economies and resilient ecosystems in Buncombe County.

The Appalachian Foodshed Project (AFP) is a collaborative effort among community-based organizations, three universities (Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, North Carolina State University) and Cooperative Extension in West Virginia, and the Appalachian regions of North Carolina and Virginia. The AFP’s mission is to help create a place-based food system that is resilient, accessible, affordable, and healthy for Appalachian communities. This USDA funded initiative aims to facilitate a network of organizations and individuals working to address issues of community development, economic viability, health, nutrition, food access, social justice, and agriculture in western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and West Virginia. To learn more, visit www.appalachianfoodshedproject.org.

ABFPC gives update to Asheville City Council on measuring metrics progress and newly formed partnerships with UNCA & ASAP

Read the full Mountain Xpress coverage here.


Photo Credit: Mountain Xpress



Following Joey Robison’s update on the progress of the City Food Action Plan, Health & Education Cluster Representative Laura Cheatham provided a brief 3 minute update to the full City Council about it’s recent developments in moving towards measuring metrics for both the ABFPC and City Council’s Food Action Plan. Watch the video coverage of Joey and and the ABFPC’s presentations here (beginning at 32:00 minutes). In summary:

  • Terri March with MAHEC is leading the process to establish county-wide Healthy Living metrics, including some for the City’s Food Action Plan. The Buncombe County Community Health Improvement Process (CHIP) has been building a “real-time” online scorecard that our council and the city has been given permission to use to share and add data to. The CHIP Process has also begun using the Results-Based Accountability Framework (which serves as the basis for the online score card software) to assist in determining if the best measures are being selected to tell the story of our communities’ work.
    • The working group of close to 50 organizations has now met 2 times and is in the process of selecting a date for our third meeting.
    • At the last meeting we broke out into smaller categorized groups and discussed what type of metrics we currently measure within our own organizations to begin the process of identifying common metrics and strategies to share.
  • We are also excited that partnerships are currently being formed between members of the ABFPC, ASAP’s research department and also several UNCA students under Dr. Ameena Batada, Assistant Professor in the Health & Wellness Department at UNCA, to identify, collect, analyze, and track metrics and research for demonstrating the impact of efforts of our council and the City of Asheville.The ABFPC will continue to the keep the city up to date on its progress.

2014Connecting for the Future: a Gathering of NC Food Councils”

December 4 –5, 2014
Winston-Salem, NC

NCCouncils2015 Collage


Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council sent 8 delegates to a convening of food councils from across North Carolina hosted by the Local Food Council of North Carolina (LFCNC). More than 100 delegates from 36 local food councils attended the convening held December 4-5 in Winston-Salem. The event, Connecting for the Future: A Gathering of NC Food Councils, provided participants with the chance to connect with other communities doing similar work and share best practices.

Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council is a group working on food system issues in Buncombe County and the city of Asheville. We encourage individuals, agencies and organizations to share information, explore avenues to increase access to healthy food, and to advocate for policy change. As more food councils develop around the state, Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council has been sought out as a strong and well-established council that others are looking to for advice, according to Laura Cheatham.

“Since 2011, the ABFPC has been working very hard to work towards building food system equity through social, economic, and environmental justice in the Asheville-Buncombe area. Some of our recent tasks as an organization have included strengthening our organizational capacity and finding funding to help us do this has been a challenge. The convening helped connect us with new and old communities around the state doing similar work, with state organizations and agencies that can help us, and gave us a huge boost of energy and inspiration to keep moving forward,” says Cheatham.

Mary Lou Kemph, the current facilitator of the ABFPC, “found [that] the conference gave me a bigger picture of food issues across our state of NC . It opened up the potential for future collaboration among Food Councils in NC.”

Event sponsors included Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Conservation Trust for NC, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, NC Department of Commerce, and NC Sea Grant.


Want to learn more and experience a little of what we learned at the gathering? Check out the Conference Materials here which include audio recordings of some of the sessions, and downloadable PowerPoint slides from most of the presenters.

Want to write a story about this event? Here’s the Press Release.

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