RealFood Panama City

The founding member of RealFoods Panama City, Sherron Belk, was regularly traveling more than an hour to Seaside to meet with others interested in “real” foods, and felt the awkwardness of traveling so far to attend a group that emphasized “local” foods. That’s how RealFood Panama City was formed in 2012—through the desire of one woman and few others that agreed people in Panama City shared their desire and needed help finding resources.

The core group, comprising a registered dietitian, a certified permaculturist, a former health food store owner, a culinary student and a retired oceanic engineer that had experienced a health recovery by means of organics, became the steering committee, meeting in homes. As the only group of its kind in the area has grown to 79 members, it moved to Unity of Panama City for monthly meetings and uses the online MeetUp service to let others in the community know that there is an interest and invite them to join in.

RealFoods Panama City participated in the 2012 Panama City Earth Day event and plans to do so again in 2013. They made a field trip in conjunction with the annual New Leaf Market sponsored farm tour, gave members the opportunity to join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and have participated other community events, such as the St Andrews Harvest Dinner.

In January, the steering committee met in a workshop format with a facilitator from Wildcat Creek Environmental Center to more clearly define their goals and verbalize a vision and mission statement. The result could be summarized this way:

Definition: RealFood Panama City is about health and wellness achieved through locally grown, nutrient dense, sustainably produced, whole foods.

Vision: embracing the goodness of real food, to foster awareness, share resources and build community.

Mission: to promote and facilitate the development of an informed community through open and inclusive food awareness opportunities.

Monthly meetings feature a potluck meal with informal sharing and community building and either a local guest speaker and/or then the viewing of an educational film with discussion afterwards. Some of the guest speakers include a beekeeper, a naturopath, a community gardener, an herbalist and a seed saver.

They share information related to real food, including where their food comes from, how to obtain locally grown, mostly organic foods, what genetically modified organisms (GMO) are and which foods that they are found in. Local resources identified by the group include master gardeners, local schools, the health department, the cooperative extension, the Community Health Task Force and St. Andrews Teaching Garden. Participants have voiced that they were propelled to take action, experienced new realizations and awareness and were motivated to return.

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Daralyn Chase is the publisher of Natural Awakenings of Northwest Florida magazine.

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