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Photovoice Project

Photovoice project
Laura Johnston
A selection of anonymous contributions to the Photovoice project, captions by the contributors.

Picturing a Nourished Community: Strengthening Food Security in Appalachia with the Help of PhotoVoice
By Laura Johnston, activist and member of the AppalFRESH (Appalachian Food Research for Equity, Sustainability, and Health) Collaborative

Rates of food insecurity are higher in Appalachia than they are nationally or globally. Food insecurity—often linked to poverty—impacts individuals in a variety of ways beyond hunger, including problems with physical, mental, and emotional health. “Picturing a Nourished Community: Strengthening Food Security in Appalachia with the Help of PhotoVoice” is a community development project that was conducted in McDowell County, North Carolina by Appalachian Studies graduate student, Laura Johnston, under the advisement of Appalachian Studies Professor, Dr. Billy Schumann; under the guidance of Public Health Professors Dr. Chris Seitz, Dr. Adam Hege, and Dr. Erin Bouldin; and alongside fellow graduate student, Madalyn Davis. 

Members of the Wellness Ministry of Grace Community Church in Marion, North Carolina—a Southern Appalachian town that is the county seat of McDowell County—focus on outreach to community members experiencing poverty, since there is a link between poverty, food insecurity, and related health issues, such as obesity and diabetes. While undergoing a year-long ethnographic field study with the church, the opportunity arose to conduct a PhotoVoice project with members of the community suffering from food insecurity. With PhotoVoice projects, cameras are put into the hands of the people experiencing a problem, giving a voice to people who might not otherwise have one. Leaders in the church work closely with local government and non-profit agencies to try to improve health and wellness in the area. 

Though there were a number of obstacles to creating the PhotoVoice project—as explained in the related paper and presentation—the exhibit was created using the photography and associated captions of three community members. The PhotoVoice project was exhibited at an event in Marion in October 2018 and was exhibited throughout the month of March 2019 at the McDowell Arts Council Association Gallery. The portable exhibit is housed at Grace Community Church and is available to McDowell County community members working to improve food security in their area. A mobile PhotoVoice exhibit is an important tool in their efforts to strengthen their community food security. 

View Photovoice


Laura Johnston—a twenty-five-year resident of southern Appalachia—is a staff member and former graduate student at Appalachian State University, where she recently earned a Master of Arts in Appalachian Studies with a Concentration in Sustainability in Appalachia. Laura focused her graduate research on food security and sustainable food in Appalachia. She works with the AppalFRESH (Appalachian Food Research for Equity, Sustainability, and Health) collaborative, members of which include Appalachian State University faculty, staff, and students, as well as community members. Laura loves spending time outdoors with her family and also enjoys photography.