Community Development through a Regional Food System Plan

Final Report for CS03-015

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2003: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Barbara Schwenk
Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission
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Project Information

Abstract:

The project was envisioned to create a regional food system plan for the Eastern Shore of Virginia and have it adopted by the two counties as a first steps towards greater food self-sufficiency, diversification of the agricultural sector, and improving access to nutritious fresh food for all citizens, especially low-income folks. A regional food system was also seen as a way to create self-employment opportunities for low-educational-attainment citizens and to re-circulate more food dollars within our region.

Introduction

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is comprised of two counties at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. Approximately 149,000 acres are farmed in the two-county area, and of those acres only 17,700 or 11.8%, is used for vegetable and potato production.2 Nearly all crops are sold exclusively on the wholesale market.

We have two grocery chains on the Shore, and only one regularly participates in the “Shore to Store” direct marketing program administered by the Delmarva Advisory Council.4 Therefore, most of the produce available in the chain stores comes from elsewhere, and an estimated $10.2 million dollars spent on fruits and vegetables leave our community.3 In addition, an estimated $15.2 million spent on meats, poultry, fish, and eggs also leaves our community.3

We propose to develop a Virginia Eastern Shore Food System Plan that will provide a step-by-step roadmap to keep more food dollars circulating within our community, provide self-employment opportunities for farmers and food entrepreneurs, provide better access to fresh, affordable food for all citizens, and enhance downtown revitalization efforts by establishing farmers markets within our towns.

1. U.S. Bureau of Census, 2000. American Fact Finder by County.
2. 1997 Census of Agriculture
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 1999 Consumer Expenditures Survey
4. Delmarva Advisory Council, P.O. Box 4277, Salisbury, MD 21803. Phone 410-742-9271. Delmarvaregion@aol.com

Project Objectives:

Our ultimate purpose is to develop a regional food system that will serve as an economic development engine to re-circulate dollars within our community, provide opportunities and expanded direct markets for new and existing growers, create production facilities and marketing assistance for food entrepreneurs, develop multiple and convenient producer markets in downtown sites as well as on the highway (Route 13), expand marketing opportunities off the Shore for growers, and organize shared transportation for getting product to market.
Creating such a system will require careful and inclusive planning. Therefore, the first objective in achieving our goal, and the reason for this application for funding, is to develop a Virginia Eastern Shore Food System Plan (The Plan).

We envision The Plan as a roadmap for developing a regional food system. It will be organized in phases and/or logical subjects (such as markets, growers, promotion) and will include step-by-step goals and objectives to reach the desired outcomes. The Plan will involve input from all citizens who care to participate as well as community groups and agricultural and planning services professionals and organizations.

Goal #1: Solicit public participation to develop the food system plan.
1.1 Hold public meetings by the third month of the project to communicate the benefits and mechanisms of a regional food system in Accomack and Northampton counties. Hold two meetings per county to ensure attendance. Target attendance is 2% of total population per jurisdiction: Accomack County – 730 and Northampton County – 270.
1.2 Create a survey flyer within the first three months to solicit feedback on understanding of a regional food system. Hand out and mail flyers (designed for interested growers or food processors). Make flyers available afterward in public places.
1.3 Use different media to increase attendance at public meetings and to communicate progress throughout the process. Write press releases and send to the two area newspapers, and air 30-second public service announcements on local radio stations.
Goal #2: Form a working committee of volunteer citizens and professionals by month four of the project. The committee will research and prepare the Virginia Eastern Shore Food System Plan based on its research and community input. The committee’s work will include but will not be limited to the following tasks:
2.1 Create criteria for identifying and evaluating potential markets and market sites and creating an inventory of existing sites.
2.2 Organize current growers and recruit and train new growers and food entrepreneurs.
2.3 Provide access to land for new growers and a certified food processing facility to make value-added products.
2.4 Promote markets to attract both growers and buyers.
2.5 Work with local officials to plan and expand the network of markets.
2.6 Assist growers who want to use alternative direct marketing techniques such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), or those who also want to expand production for the wholesale market.
2.7 Create linkages between the resources and expertise of organizations and individuals in the community to coordinate efforts towards a regional food system.
2.8 Provide technical assistance and training in sustainable and organic agricultural methods for all new and existing growers who are interested.
2.9 Pool resources or form a cooperative of growers to provide shared equipment and transportation.

Goal #3 – Complete the Virginia Eastern Shore Food System Plan and have it formally adopted by local governments by 11th month of the project.

Goal #4 – Form a non-profit organization to implement The Plan by the 12th month

Research

Materials and methods:

Goal #1 – Public Meetings
A-NPDC staff will organize the public meetings and present information to the public with the help of agricultural experts. A-NPDC staff will support the work of the newly-formed Plan committee and will develop survey flyer and collect results.

Goal #2 – Form a working committee of volunteers to develop the Virginia Eastern Shore Food System Plan. Committee will meet regularly for six consecutive months and will be organized by Barbara Schwenk, A-NPDC Economic Development Coordinator, who will provide staff support and research assistance to the committee. Paul Berge, A-NPDC Executive Director, will serve on the committee, as well as at least one local agricultural services professional, faith-based and other community leaders, local government and planning officials, growers, farm stand operators, food entrepreneurs, other organizations interested in sustainable agriculture, such as The Nature Conservancy, and any citizen who has an interest in this project.

Goal #3 – Formal adoption of The Plan by Accomack and Northampton county governments by 11th month of the project. A-NPDC staff will assist with promoting and presenting The Plan to local governments for adoption.

Goal #4 – Form non-profit organization to implement The Plan.
A-NPDC staff will provide technical assistance to the committee for formation of the 501(c)3 and will complete and file the required IRS forms by the 12th month of the project.

Research results and discussion:

Positive results of the project include adoption of a resolution (enclosed) supporting a regional food system policy from the Northampton County Board of Supervisors. The resolution is also on the agenda for the April 19, 2006 Accomack County Board of Supervisors, and we are hopeful that it will also be adopted by Accomack County. With resolutions of support in place, the forthcoming food system plan has a chance of being adopted by the counties. However, support from all the stakeholders will need to be gained first.

Mention of stakeholders brings up the greatest impact this project has produced—alignment of stakeholders with similar goals: better health through better nutrition, and economic development through our agricultural sector. This project has forged new connections and synergies between farmers, agricultural and extension professionals, emergency food providers (Food Bank), the Eastern Shore Health District, the school systems, the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission, and the Eastern Shore Community College. In addition, spin-offs from this project include the Eastern Shore Farmers Market Alliance, which was formed as a result of the early work for this project (the farmers did not want to talk about “a plan,” they wanted to talk about markets!), as well as a new group Shore Good Foods, which is applying for non-profit status. It is Shore Good Foods that will complete a food system plan for our two-county region by doing food system assessment research and partnering with all stakeholders to gain support for changing our food system to a more local, sustainable one.

FARMER ADOPTION
Farmers did not accept the idea of creating a regional food system plan. They would not agree to work with us on formulating a plan, but instead, wanted very much to create new markets for their produce. We have a large wholesale farmers market here on the Eastern Shore, but it will not pick up from farms that can not supply full pallets. This has left many of our specialty- and mid-sized farmers with no way to get their produce to market unless they pack it and haul it themselves. Most of them can not afford to take the time to do this, and the type of truck needed is not what most of them have available. As a result of early discussions around the food system project, we helped to organize a new group called the Eastern Shore Farmers Market Alliance. They have since established farmers markets in the downtown areas of Cape Charles, Cheriton, Chincoteague, and Exmore, which are now beginning their third season.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

1. Survey – Where do you get your food?
2. Survey results

3. Northampton County Board of Supervisors Local Food System Policy Resolution, April 10, 2006
4. “New group needs your help…” Eastern Shore News, January 25, 2006
5. Attention Eastern Shore Eaters, Eastern Shore Post, September 21, 2005
6. “New group studies food programs, marketing” Eastern Shore News, November 2, 2005.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Research into the political process for adopting new policies related to agriculture and food systems. Examples from other communities might be useful – a sort of “how to get your policy adopted” manual. We suggest this because of the very difficult political climate we have experienced here over the past year.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.