Jared Cates

Through many years of community organizing, Cates gained a piece of wisdom that he shares with local food councils. “Don’t be afraid to try,” he says, “even if you don’t see a clear path to winning.”

Jared Cates, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

One of the NCLFC Local Food Champions of 2019

As a child, gardening felt like a chore for Jared Cates. His parents would send him out into the large garden they kept at their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Cates was tasked with removing Japanese beetles from the plants and they paid him a quarter for each full jar that he gathered.

Despite dreading garden chores, Cates also learned in childhood that eating could be a special experience. His father was a chef at Pyewacket, one of the first all-vegetarian restaurants in the area. He would try out new recipes on the family at home and once a week they ate for free together at the restaurant. This was a treat that they would not have otherwise been able to afford.

In college, Cates studied political science. It wasn’t until after graduating, when he started working at community gardens with teenagers completing court ordered community service, that he began thinking about the importance of food.

“The kids did not know that French fries come from potatoes and potatoes come from the ground,” Cates remembers. It impacted him deeply to see kids without a connection to their food.

Cates began thinking and reading about food systems and returned to school for a Master of Social Work degree. He became passionate about the idea of bringing more equity to the complex food system.

“Food is a pathway to change and a vehicle for having conversations around social equity,” says Cates.

For Cates, increasing equity across the food system means “the elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by categories like race, cultural group, sexual orientation and class.”

Currently, Cates has two roles in his job with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) in Pittsboro, NC. The first is community organizing and grassroots advocacy for issues that matter to CFSA’s members. In this role, he supports CFSA’s efforts to build relationships with lawmakers and influence state and federal level policy.

Cates’s second role is supporting local food councils across the state as a member of the Community Food Strategies project team. Local food councils are cross-sector, community organizations that help promote more resilient food systems. Cates shares methods and frameworks with the local food councils, giving them the tools to be their own advocates.

Local food councils are important, Cates believes, because they create community connection by focusing on universal issues like health and economic development. Cates is encouraged to see food councils beginning to convene and collaborate on issues like farm to school, land use and food recovery.

Through many years of community organizing, Cates gained a piece of wisdom that he shares with local food councils. “Don’t be afraid to try,” he says, “even if you don’t see a clear path to winning.” Cates has learned that engaging in an issue and “failing” can be a success. The complex work of changing the food system requires lots of attempts and sustained effort.

These days Cates feels differently about gardening and he loves to cook, including some of his father’s recipes. “I can’t wait to go outside and harvest something at the end of the day,” he muses. Cates knows that his goal of changing the food system is the work of a lifetime and gardening reminds him to stay grounded and practice patience.

Learn more about NC Local Food Councils’ champions and their work at https://www.nclocalfoodcouncil.org/.

Link to one of Jared’s favorite winter greens recipes.

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Copyright 2018 ncfoodcouncil. All rights reserved. Contact Angel Cruz at aecruz@ncsu.edu or Joyce Yao at jyao8@ncsu.edu with any comments, questions, or concerns.