Local Matters Co-founders Michael Jones and Noreen Warnock first met in the summer of 2005. Each had followed different but equally passionate roads to their initial meeting, sitting in two rusted, white chairs under a shade tree. Despite their separate journeys, they quickly discovered a shared love of food and a concern about how our food was being grown, distributed and consumed and how that was having a direct impact on the health of our bodies, our land and our community.
Michael grew up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina that included a grandmother who was a wonderful cook, planted and maintained a two-acre garden and prepared meals daily for the more than 30 farm workers, aunts, uncles and cousins who worked the fields. He went on to complete a degree in Health Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and eventually became a working Chef. His inspiration for Local Matters occurred in 2005 when he and his wife were expecting their first child. One evening, he was reading an article that happened to include a phrase that stated that, “children of his daughter’s generation would be the first whose life expectancy would be shorter than their parents”. This passage served as a “call to action” for him, especially when he learned that food was the root cause of the problem.
Noreen, raised in a low-income family that struggled to make ends meet, was a community activist and mother of two who understood the role that food played in raising a family on a budget, especially healthy children. She began to focus her activism on food in the late ‘90s by advocating for organic food on local grocery store shelves coupled with a desire to see that all communities had equal access to healthy foods. Through partnerships with several community organizations, Noreen helped secure a USDA Community Food Security Grant in 2002 that led to the creation of The Greater Columbus Foodshed Project (TGCFP). This project helped create over 20 community gardens, primarily in partnership with the Child Development Council of Franklin County Head Start and included a youth group of 14-19 year-old brothers and sisters of Head Start children, who learned what healthy food is, how to grow food, and how to sell it at a local farmers market. It also facilitated a three-year teen gardening and nutrition project and convened a monthly Foodshed Council, which engaged community members and leaders in food system conversations.
Michael and Noreen have shared that after that first conversation, neither of them knew what Local Matters would ultimately become. But, they were clear about what Local Matters needed to be: a response to food system that just doesn’t work very well. It’s a food system that makes it challenging for communities in need to get access to healthful foods; a food system that makes it difficult for small and mid-size farmers to compete in the marketplace; and, a food system that is perpetuating generations of children whose lives will be negatively impacted by obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Following a series of conversations and through lots of engagement with community partners, Michael and Noreen chose the creation and implementation of a healthful food education curriculum for young children as a place to begin Local Matters' journey. This curriculum (now our Food Matters program) drew from their collective expertise in public health, food preparation, community organizing and food system logistics, and set the foundation and vision for our organization.
Today, through the work of dedicated staff and board members, Local Matters is a recognized leader and community collaborator, increasing critical healthful food education and food access to combat food insecurity and diet-related diseases particularly in low-income communities. See Our Work for more about our mission in action.