Celebrating Local Food & Local Farms

2019 Local Food Heroes Coming Soon!


Local Food Hero: Tony Kleese

Tony Kleese has been actively involved in the development of local and organic food systems since 1989, primarily in the southeastern US and Caribbean. As a farmer, educator, and activist, he rarely wears one of these “hats” at a time. He has had tremendous influence in North Carolina and beyond both personally and professionally.

In his early years farming in Franklin County, he invited people to his farm to work and learn. His passion for growing and selling food organically is contagious! By sharing organic principles on his farms, and through teaching hundreds of workshops on organic farming, he has inspired many new farmers and gardeners over the last 30 years.

He helped develop and manage Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s organic certification program, before the advent of the USDA’s program. He then helped develop the USDA's National Organic Program, in the late 90s, as the Coordinator of the Organic Trade Association's Organic Certifier's Council.

He has provided leadership and served in distinguished roles with many organizations that are focused on developing the local and organic food systems in North Carolina. He was the first coordinator of the Sustainable Farming Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, NC, served as Executive Director for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and is a founding member of Eastern Carolina Organics.

Tony is leading a technical support program in partnership with the Source Farm Project in Jamaica to help the island nation develop a local and organic food system.

Those who know or have met Tony know the intense passion that drives his work. It is this passion and drive that has resulted in tremendous progress toward his vision of a southeastern local and organic food system. He has been a teacher and mentor to an entire generation of farmers, students, activists, and food system change-makers. He is a Local Food Hero in North Carolina and beyond.

Tony was presented with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Lifetime Achievement Award in February 2018. Tony courageously battled cancer and passed away on March 17, 2018. One way to honor Tony's memory is to support the non-profit he founded in 2017: The People’s Seed. The mission is to redesign the funding and decision-making systems for seed and plant development to focus on farmer success, food security, nutrition, and protecting the environment. To visit the People’s Seed website, please go to: www.thepeoplesseed.org.

Local Food Hero: Robert Cates

Meal Service Program Manager, Child Care Services Association

For the past eighteen years, Robert Cates has been running the Child Care Services Association’s Nutrition Service Program, catering meals to child care centers in Orange and Chatham Counties. CCSA’s Nutrition program has been in operation for almost three decades, and in recent years has expanded to kitchens serving child care centers in Durham and Wake counties.

While the organization has always focused on providing well balanced, nutritious meals to preschool children, what that entails has evolved over time. Changes Robert and his team have implemented include removing trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, and more recently, introducing locally sourced products into the menus.

He started with pasture-raised beef, and partnering with Cane Creek Farms led Robert to reconnect with farmers at the Carrboro Farmers Market, many of whom he had purchased from during his 26 years in the Chapel Hill restaurant business. This led to CCSA being one of the first customers for Farmer Foodshare’s Wholesale Market.

In the past few years, in addition to sourcing from Farmer Foodshare and Firsthand Foods, CCSA has purchased meat, fruits and vegetables from over a dozen local farms. Thanks to Robert, five days a week nearly 500 preschool children in Orange County are eating locally prepared meals made with food grown in our community.

Local Food Hero: Audrey Waggoner

Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning at Guilford College & Mobile Oasis Farmers Market

Audrey Waggoner works in the Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning at Guilford College. She has a passion for mentoring student leadership development in community and food justice. Her dedication has gone not only to supporting food accessibility, but to building skills and tools of accountability amongst students as they work to strengthen their relationships within the Greensboro community.

Audrey has worked diligently to show how service is an important tool for positive social change in our food system. From volunteering at the Permaculture Guild and working to support gardens in spaces such as the Interactive Resource Center, to advising volunteers of the Food Justice Club in their efforts to raise access to local, healthy foods, Audrey Waggoner goes beyond expectations to build platforms of food accessibility for communities in Greensboro.

Audrey co-convened the past two FOODSTORM conferences, student-planned gatherings of food systems workers from all over the state, purposed to provide opportunity for building community and resources around food accessibility. She has also spearheaded resource development for the Mobile Oasis Market, which takes fresh produce into communities with low access to healthy foods.

Audrey attended the University of South Carolina, UNC-Greensboro and was a CEFS Apprentice at NCA&T.

Local Food Hero: Kimberly Shaw

A Safe Place

Mrs. Kimberly Shaw is the owner and operator of A Safe Place (ASP). Mrs. Shaw started as a family child care home in August 1997 and the business has been growing ever since. It now includes two full-time five star, NAEYC-accredited centers dedicated to providing quality childcare to families that would otherwise not be able to afford it.

A Safe Place has N.C. Pre-K classrooms and are Community Partners with Early Head Start providing activities that create opportunities for children to learn about themselves in a safe and healthy environment. ASP provides a loving atmosphere that supports the development of self-esteem and self-confidence, and provides good models and tools to be successful in life.

ASP is located in a food desert and has continued to work to create access to fresh, healthy foods and activities for the community. This urban mini-farm is currently a POD (Preventing Obesity by Design), F2CC (Farm to Child Care) and Shape NC location in Wake County to teach the children and families involved about growing food, eating healthier and maintaining active lives both at the school and at home.

Mrs. Shaw currently serves on the boards of Wake County Smart Start, Child Care Services Association and The Early Education Coalition. In 2014 Mrs. Shaw received The Dorothy B. Graham Child Care Leadership Award. In 2015 and 2017 A Safe Place received the City of Raleigh Urban Agriculture Award. In 2017 Mrs. Shaw served as a Statewide Mentor for the Farm to Early Care and Education Initiative.

Local Food Hero: Vincent Webb

NC Cooperative Extension

Vincent Webb is from Elm City, NC, just outside of Rocky Mount. After getting a nutrition degree at UNC-Greensboro and serving in the Navy Reserves for 6 1/2 years (plus two more since), he volunteered with FoodCorps NC and served in his own home community with the Down East Partnership for Children, teaching kids about cooking food, gardening, and building a local team around supporting farm-to-school work.

He has gone on to take a job with NC Cooperative Extension back in Guilford County where he had built a community during college. There, Vincent brings his skills and passion for farm-to-school to his Family and Consumer Sciences position, where he manages the teaching kitchen and offers Safe Plate trainings to support local food entrepreneurs with food safety knowledge.

He has also taken the NC Cooperative Extension Master Food Volunteer training program, which allows him to teach volunteers for NC Cooperative Extension how to educate about and support local foods efforts. Vincent goes above and beyond, he cares and he connects, he's invested in NC and his local community, and he's one of our local food heroes.

Check out Vince's 2016 FoodTalk video where he speaks about what it is like to serve in schools just down the road from where he grew up.

Local Food Hero: Cecilia Polanco

So Good Pupusas & Pupusas For Education

Cecilia Polanco is the founder of a social justice food truck based in Durham, NC, called So Good Pupusas. So Good Pupusas sells Pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. The food truck works in partnership with the non-profit Pupusas for Education, by donating a percentage of its profits to support immigrants in funding 4-year degrees and certification programs. Cecelia has also been involved in supporting young people in food systems by co-founding a youth program dedicated to supporting professional development and food systems learning amongst youth of color.

Cecilia has dedicated great passion in her initiatives to provide opportunities for immigrants to have access to higher education. At just 22 years old, she came up with the idea for So Good Pupusas as a way to celebrate her Salvadorean roots, provide delicious food for communities, and serve a need that is far too often overlooked or unknown.

Cecilia serves on the board for the Helius Foundation and N.C. SLI, and has been a Summer Fellow with Frontline Solutions and the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation. She is passionate about working with Latinx and immigrant communities and making higher education more accessible and affordable. She believes that business can be a force for good, and that pupusas can change the world.

2018 Food Hero Sponsors

Terrence Caulfield
Beverley Clark
Nancy Creamer
Sarah Hodges
Croatan Institute
Joanna Lelekacs
Melissa McCullough
Harvey Skinner
Tessa Thraves
Elizabeth Yerxa