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Food insecurity growing, board learns

The Surry County Board of Commissioners learned that food in insecurity is continuing to rise locally.

Food insecurity rates across the country reached their peak levels during the economic downturn in 2007-08, according to information supplied by the Piedmont Triad Regional Council. Studies had found these levels to be in decline until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A food insecurity rate of around 12% for Surry County in 2017 is projected as high as 15-20% post pandemic, according to Jennifer Bedrosian, the food services coordinator for the council.

Bedrosian pointed at out that the information complied in the council’s report was more comprehensive than ever.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to collect this granular level data at the county level like this,” she advised the board. With the power to break down usage numbers for food banks by zip code for example, a more accurate picture of communities in need can be found and a county profile was built for each of the twelve counties in the study.

The study looked at regional trends in how much food that was being grown locally was being processed and sold locally . With deficiencies across the state in cold storage facilities a large percentage of the livestock raised here is shipped out of state for processing.

Randolph County Commissioner David Allen spoke to the board and pointed out that cattle sold in Siler City are being shipped for processing to Texas. This “supply chain leakage” means North Carolina counties are importing the majority of their agricultural goods.

Allen and Bedrosian both said better collaboration is needed between private and public entities to create grant programs and incentives to keep food grown locally consumed locally, and county food councils can help to coordinate those efforts.

A recurring theme is one of education and Allen pointed to a program in Stokes County training meat cutters and also a program in Randolph County creating agribusiness classes for farmers. “Most farmers are very good at what they do but they’re not always good businessmen. So the education we get to them through our community colleges (can help) their situation.”

There are no quick answers to solving food insecurity, rather coordinated efforts across mutliple fronts will be needed. Simply raising more hogs or growing more crops cannot solve the problem with David Allen telling the board, “Some of the most produced farmland in North Carolina is where there is the most need and food insecurity.”

More information can be found on the council’s study at:

In other business at the board meeting this week:

– The board was presented with the revised Abatement of Health and Safety Nuisance Ordinance. The revision was brought before the board at its last meeting, and passed 3-2. As that vote was not unanimous, the ordinance was required to be voted upon again and the outcome did not change. Chair Mark Marion, vommissioner Larry Johnson and Bill Goins voted in the affirmative with Eddie Harris and Van Tucker voting in the negative.

Tucker spoke briefly on the ordinance and made sure no one took offense to his strong concerns over issues this ordinance may cause the board. “I simply contend we have enough government oversight,” Tucker said. “(The ordinance) could in fact be a little bit of infringement on personal rights if it wasn’t executed very judiciously.”

Passage of the second vote by majority was all that was needed to enact the revised ordinance.

– The board heard more information from County Manager Chris Knopf in relation to an information request that was made at the last meeting regarding PART. The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation was seeking permission to apply for a federal grant to expand the PART route in Surry County. The board discussed ridership numbers in Surry County and whether there was a need for expansion of PART.

Commissioner Johnson asked questions again this week regarding the usage tax on rental cars meant to offset the operating costs of PART. Johnson stated he did not feel it was fair for the people of Surry County who are renting cars, as he likes to do for travel, to be paying a tax for a commuter bus service that ridership numbers do not bare out is needed. The board authorized the county manager to have the county attorney to look into their ability to rescind that use tax and Surry County’s ongoing participation in PART.

– County Manager Chris Knopf gained permission from the board to begin the process of realigning the districts within Surry County. The three districts within the county should have as near to 14,271 citizens in each of them as possible, with the Mount Airy district having double that – and having two representatives on the county board. Knopf said he was aware that there was an out of balance between the districts, but having the census figures in hand he can now begin the process of realignment.

– Elkin Middle School was selected as a 2021 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The Blue Ribbon School designation signifies progress in closing the achievement gap for students. To recognize that achievement, Elkin Middle Principal Amanda Burton and Elkin Schools Superintendent Dr. Myra Cox were both on hand to be honored by the Board.

“I believe with this national recognition it really shows that they went above and beyond,” Dr. Cox said of the staff at Elkin Middle.



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