Inside CAS

College of Arts and Sciences


Creating Community Through Food

Friday, May 13, 2016


Written by: Abby Williams '16 and Matthew Ledford '16; Photo by Abby Williams

It’s Tuesday night at 6 p.m. Crowded into a small room at the Hemenway Center located right in the heart of downtown Wilmington, Meghan Price, a UNCW public health senior, assembles fruit and Greek yogurt across a folding table. She patiently slices pineapple and strawberries, then places them into little paper bowls. Organic blueberries and bananas are also added to the assembly line of fruit. “Tonight we are making a fruit salad,” she says. She has been teaching cooking classes at the Hemenway Center for the past six months. Price is an intern for the non-profit organization Feast Down East, an initiative established to help get local food on local plates and to encourage cooking and time spent around the table.

“I had no idea what to expect in the beginning, we were literally about to cancel the first class because we didn’t think anyone would show up…then more than 20 people arrived,” says Price. She says the classes “help to provide nutrition programs and hands on-demonstrations.” All of the food is organic and local. Feast Down East partners with more than thirty local restaurants who want to support their community and provide their customers with the best locally grown produce. These partners consist of local businesses such as UNCW Campus Dining, 22 North, Kornerstone Bistro, Dockside, and many more. Not only does Feast Down East support local restaurants, but all of its food comes from local farmers in southeastern North Carolina, specifically those smaller scale farms who need assistance with distribution. Together these farmers and restaurants are giving a boost to the local economy.

Sarah Daniels is the associate director at Feast Down East. While she was working on her master’s degree in Public Administration, she completed an internship with FDE to look at local food systems. She continues that work in her current position, looking at how local food systems impact economic development, social justice, and inter-organizational collaboration. She also works closely with the FDE interns.

Erin Espinosa, an EVS senior, first heard about Feast Down East in one of her classes. Although she is not receiving class credit, she says she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. She says, “I always knew I wanted to grow up and work on a farm. FDE gave me the opportunity to experience the administrative side of farming.” Her experience validated her decision to major in EVS and how it would help her become a better farmer. “I learned that lower income communities have a hard time accessing certain types of foods,” says Espinosa, who wants to produce the crops that many take for granted.

It is Price’s last cooking class, which gives her pause to reflect on her experience, including teaching her first cooking class, developing nutrition programs, and even catching a pan of sweet potato fries on fire. She says Feast Down East has been the “perfect opportunity to provide me with experience and the opportunity to meet people in the community who come from a variety of backgrounds.” She says, “UNCW might as well be on its own island, when you leave the campus and travel to different areas of Wilmington you forget how sheltered you are. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn skills I never could have learned in the classroom.”

At about 6:30 p.m., a few older women peek their heads in through the cracked door and enter the room. Following close behind them is Kayden Spencer, a little boy who excitedly takes a seat in the front row. He is accompanied by his grandmother who quietly tells him to “settle down”. Price distributes binders to all the participants containing all of the recipes they have made. Smiling, the women flip through the recipes. Price asks Kayden to help her. As she spoons out the Greek yogurt into his bowl, his face lights up with a smile. He picks out the fruit he wants and takes a seat, contently eating his fruit salad.

Price expresses that food access and food security are major goals for Feast Down East. In a city that can sometimes seem very divided depending on where you live--whether it’s the beach, downtown, or at UNCW, moments like these can provide some unity. From students, to locals, to farmers, community programs like these provide food as a common denominator.