Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Project

Final Report for GS08-067

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2008: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Grant Recipient: University of North Carolina Wilmington
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Leslie Hossfeld
University of North Carolina Wilmington
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Project Information

Summary:

Integrated local food systems are able to bridge institutional buyers with small and medium sized farmers creating vibrant, sustainable economies. In order to develop and coordinate a local and regional food system in Southeastern North Carolina, significant research is needed to determine market opportunities and production capacity to fulfill these opportunities. Assessment of direct markets including: the public school system in the six county region, independently owned restaurants and grocers, UNC system universities and regional hospitals, will allow the interests and needs of these institutions concerning participation in local food systems to be identified and documented. Only through the identification of these needs can local food purchasing be approached systematically. Furthermore, the capacity of regional growers must be assessed concerning their growing interest and ability. This, combined with the market assessment, will enable farmers to maximize their profits through accumulated information about available markets and demanded products. This will enable farmers and institutional buyers to be optimally paired through product and quantity demand and/or supply. Local food systems are able to address many problems associated with our current food system and provide alternatives that contribute to the local economy and the health of a community without depleting natural resources. In order to implement such a system, a strong foundation must be secured through research identifying the specific needs of the region that must be addressed. Researching and assessing the market opportunities and production capabilities will significantly inform the development of the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Project.

Tables, figures or graphs mentioned in this report
are on file in the Southern SARE office.
Contact Sue Blum at 770-229-3350 or
sueblum@uga.edu for a hard copy.

Introduction

Food is inextricably connected to every living organism. As human beings, we rely on food to give us stamina and energy in order to sustain us throughout our daily lives. Whether the relationship to food is food production or consumption, society, politics, the environment and the economy are all affected by this relationship. However, the current food production and consumption processes have begun to strain our health, local communities, regions and states.

Our current food system relies on large monoculture productions that utilize exorbitant amounts of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. Run-off from these chemicals goes into our rivers, lakes, ground water and streams; soil is stripped of its nutrients; and the air is polluted as food is transported an average of 1300 miles from where it was produced (Allen, 2004). Rural economies and the environment are suffering, the source of our food is unknown, and food disease is rampant. The corporate food chain has grown so long, that consumers no longer know where their food was grown, how it was processed and how it was treated during transportation (Norberg-Hodge, Merrifield & Gorelick, 2002). Thus, individuals have begun to seek an alternative food system that relies on sustainably grown, locally distributed products (Lang, Barling and Caraher, 2001; Allen, 2004).

Benefits of Community Food Systems

An alternative food system where food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed within one locality would address the environmental, economic, political and social problems associated with our current food system. Community food systems emphasize sustainable food production, local distribution and local consumption of foods and keep food dollars within a region or community. Community food systems can also create jobs needed for the production, processing and distribution of food.

The social benefits that can be produced through the establishment of a community food system include greater community cohesion from increased interaction among growers, processors, distributors, and buyers within a local division of labor, which produces a collective understanding of the importance of the production and consumption of local foods (Ritzer, 2008). Increased equity in the food system as well as increased access to more nutritious foods are other social benefits that result from community food systems.

In addition to social benefits, community food systems may also have many environmental benefits. Community food systems decrease air pollution created through the transportation of foods, by keeping food produced locally, consumed locally (Wilkins & Eames- Sheavly, n.d.; Norberg-Hodge et, al., 2002; Wright, 2006). Community food systems create a need and demand for more farms and thus farmland preservation (Norberg-Hodge et, al., 2002; Dillon, 2007). Preserving open space also provides carbon absorbing foliage that cleans the air and retains nutrients in the soil.

Community food systems encourage sustainable, bio-diverse production. Sustainable production enhances the environment in a variety of ways. For example, small-scale farmers are able to increase yields through growing many crops together, naturally deterring pests associated with large-scale monoculture production, which significantly decreases the need for heavy pesticides, fertilizers and other petro-chemicals. This also decreases the chances for food-borne illnesses, especially large-scale outbreaks. Sustainable production encourages preservation of the natural environment by building up the soil through natural amendments like compost and manure and does not leach chemicals into the ground and ground water.

Lastly, community food systems produce economic benefits. Community food systems keep food dollars circulating within a community and can produce a multiplier effect that leads to job creation and economic growth. A greater percentage of each food dollar spent in local food purchasing is returned to the farmer (Allen, 2004; Meter & Rosales, 2001; Department of City and Regional Planning UNC- Chapel Hill, 2008). This increases farmers’ incomes and keeps money in the local economy, which can lead to the strengthening of rural economic bases.

Because of the many benefits that community food systems can have for local economies, the environment and communities, many people are seeking to implement them where they live. There are a variety of ways in which community food systems can be instituted. Initiatives have included community or school gardens, community supported agriculture programs (CSA’s), farmers’ markets, and direct marketing to restaurants and institutions. All of these initiatives require different strategies and tactics for implementation according to their different goals. This current project will focus on direct marketing to institutions. There are many advantages to incorporating institutions into community food system programs. Institutions provide a large, secure market for farmers with predictable demand, eliminating many of the risks involved with growing new crops speculatively (Department of City and Regional Planning UNC- Chapel Hill, 2008).

Institutional Purchasing

Institutions are some of the largest purchasers of food, especially in rural areas. Public schools, universities, community colleges, hospitals and prisons are examples of institutional buyers that consistently serve hundreds to thousands of meals per day. Institutions once relied on local products to serve their customers; however, national food processors and distributors are the major suppliers of food to institutions today (Bellows, Dufour & Bachmann, 2003). In order to change this process and enable local producers to sell their food to institutions, program coordination, local processors, and local distribution centers must be established. When farmers sell to local institutions, they gain access to reliable markets and allow consumers within these intuitions exposure to healthier, more nutritious foods (Department of City and Regional Planning UNC- Chapel Hill, 2008). Additionally, through a local purchasing relationship, institutions invest directly into the local economy.

In order for farmers to sell to institutional buyers, much planning and coordination is needed between numerous constituents. Each institutional buyer has its own set of standards and regulations that it follows for purchasing produce. In addition, institutions differ in purchasing and procurement policies and procedures, distribution networks, processing facilities and labor (Dillon, 2007; Bellows et, al., 2003; Harmon, 2004; Burlington Food Council, 2004; Izumi, Rostant, Moss, & Hamm,2006). Navigating these issues requires that researchers address barriers before steps can be taken to implement institutional buying programs (Bellows et. al., 2003; Burlington Food Council, 2004).

Barriers and Challenges to Institutional Purchasing

Both institutional buyers and farmers face critical constraints in their ability to participate in local food purchasing programs (Dillon, 2007; Harmon, 2004; Bellows et, al., 2003; Izumi et, al., 2006; Burlington Food Council, 2004). Research conducted on institutional buying programs between public schools and farmers found that federal and state procurement regulations, lack of products available during certain times of the year, and lack of local producers within close proximity were barriers to public schools buying local foods (Izumi et, al., 2006). Other concerns with institutional purchasing of local foods have included cost, reliable supply, food safety, delivery, quality and the effort required to buy local produce. Allen and Guthman (2006) identified getting the produce from the farm to the institution (delivery) as the biggest operational challenge. Logistical and management concerns in a National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service Study included finding the types of normally consumed food by customers locally, availability of kitchen and storage facilities, food preparation skills of employees, cost of local foods, access to processing facilities, available supply of local products, food quality and food safety oversight, and delivery (Bellows et, al., 2003).

Barriers are also evident for farmers in the participation of local food purchasing programs. Farmer constraints include limitations in production, processing, storage and transportation (Dillon, 2007). Small-scale farmers often cannot produce all the fresh produce needed by institutions. In addition, institutions are increasingly relying on pre-processed and pre-packaged foods. Due to lack of access to processing facilities, farmers find it difficult to process and package their products in ways that institutions can utilize them. Lastly, farmers often do not have the storage or the transportation abilities to either cool produce or deliver it to the institutions. A New Jersey assessment found supply, seasonality and distribution to be the greatest challenges facing both institutions and farmers (Harmon, 2004).

To understand the challenges for the implementation of a local food purchasing program, several agencies and organizations have conducted community food assessments (Burlington Food Council, 2004; Harmon, 2004; Izumi et, al., 2006; Joshi, Azuma & Feenstra, 2008; United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, 2000). Community food assessments examine community food issues and assets in order to facilitate change actions such as policy advocacy and program development (Pothukuchi, Joseph, Burton & Fisher, 2002;Cook, Morgan, Radenovic & Renzi, 2007; Cohen, 2002). Conducting a community food assessment for a farm-to-institution initiative involves understanding the potential demand and opportunities for institutional purchasing, especially farm-to-school purchasing; the identification and recruitment of farmers that could supply institutions with products as well as the needs, challenges and opportunities for these local farmers, especially limited resource farmers; and the market opportunities for farmers through farmers’ markets, organic production and competitive pricing.

Agriculture in Southeastern North Carolina
Southeastern North Carolina is a large rural region with Wilmington as its major coastal city. The region has lost more manufacturing jobs than any rural region in NC and perhaps the nation (www.povertyeast.org/jobs). It is also the most ethnically diverse region in NC and in Rural America. It is one of the three regions of persistent poverty in NC. The six Southeastern counties examined in this research comprise more Native Americans than any region east of the Mississippi and are home to the Lumbee, the largest tribe in Eastern US, and the Waccamaw-Siouan. Additionally, there is a significant low-income, African American population comprising 24% of the six county population, of which 30% are in poverty. There is extensive farming and farmland in the rural counties, but farming continues to serve the export economy rather than local food needs. Furthermore, development of interests and rising competition of large agribusinesses have threatened small and medium sized farms.
Major research is key to the development of the regional food system in Southeastern NC. This research project will assess market opportunities and capacities to creating a major institutional buying system of farm products on the local and regional level. There are two universities, several regional hospitals, and public school systems in the region that are viable markets. There are also hundreds of privately-owned, restaurants and groceries that are potential purchasers of local foods. Research is also needed to identify limited resource farmers and assess their needs and challenges in transitioning from export to local food production. Market and farm assessments will provide important information on how the local food system will add economic value to both the farm and food economy. This research will further demonstrate the advantages of developing a sustainable agricultural system, including increased farm production, profits, and employment; economic security; creation of new food processing and distribution centers, reduced purchasing costs; fresh and more nutritious foods, and decreased use of chemical intensive farm practices that deplete the region’s natural resources.
Objectives
The purpose of this project is to conduct research that will support the development of the SENC Food System (SENCFS) Project. The goal of SENCFS is to increase the economic viability of the family farm system of agriculture in Southeastern North Carolina. Through a systematic approach of creating a local and regional food system, the SENCFS project will connect, sustain, and expand small and medium sized, limited-resource farmers to new and emerging institutional buyers and markets.
This investigation was framed around the following questions:
1. What is the potential demand and opportunities for developing an institutional buying system of local foods in Southeastern NC?
2. What are the needs, challenges and interests of limited resource farmers in moving from export food production to local food production
3. What are the institutional buying patterns and expenses of institutional buyers in Southeastern NC?
4. What are the direct market opportunities for local food purchasing?
5. What are the opportunities and challenges for local and regional farm to school projects?
6. Who are the small and medium sized farmers in Southeastern NC?
7. What is the present and emerging production of organic foods in Southeastern NC?
These questions were answered through the following activities: review of pertinent literature, surveying farmers, interviews with farmers, surveying institutions, interviews with public school Child Nutrition Directors, and interviews with Farmers’ Market Managers. The report details the findings of the research objectives in the following chapters concluding with suggestions of strategies for the creation of a local and regional food system in Southeastern NC.

Project Objectives:

The purpose of this project is to conduct research that will support the development of the SENC Food System (SENCFS) Project. The goal of SENCFS is to increase the economic viability of the family farm system of agriculture in Southeastern North Carolina. Through a systematic approach of creating a local and regional food system, the SENCFS project will connect, sustain, and expand small and medium sized, limited-resource farmers to new and emerging institutional buyers and markets.
This investigation was framed around the following questions:
1. What is the potential demand and opportunities for developing an institutional buying system of local foods in Southeastern NC?
2. What are the needs, challenges and interests of limited resource farmers in moving from export food production to local food production
3. What are the institutional buying patterns and expenses of institutional buyers in Southeastern NC?
4. What are the direct market opportunities for local food purchasing?
5. What are the opportunities and challenges for local and regional farm to school projects?
6. Who are the small and medium sized farmers in Southeastern NC?
7. What is the present and emerging production of organic foods in Southeastern NC?
These questions were answered through the following activities: review of pertinent literature, surveying farmers, interviews with farmers, surveying institutions, interviews with public school Child Nutrition Directors, and interviews with Farmers’ Market Managers. The report details the findings of the research objectives in the following chapters concluding with suggestions of strategies for the creation of a local and regional food system in Southeastern NC.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Raven Bruno

Research

Materials and methods:

Developing an institutional buying system for local agriculture products will provide farmers with a consistent and reliable market. Institutions operate year round and serve a substantial amount of clients. Another advantage to institutions is that they are present in all of the counties, urban and rural, located in Southeastern NC. Targeting institutional buyers as a potential market for local agricultural products allows for greater economic impact through the purchasing of local products as well as the opportunity to educate those who are served by the institution about local, sustainable products.

Methodology
In order to understand the potential demand and opportunities for the development of a local food system through an institutional buying program, a list of major institutional buyers in Southeastern NC was created. These institutional buyers were then surveyed on their interests, needs, and challenges in participating in an institutional buying system. A list of major institutional buyers was compiled utilizing the major institutional buyers that are present in each county of the six-county Southeastern NC region: hospitals, public K-12 schools, community colleges, universities and prisons. Contact information for the food service director was obtained through internet searches and phone calls to the institution. Surveys were created to obtain information regarding the interests of these institutional buyers in participating in a local food purchasing program, their needs for participating and the challenges they face or would face in participating. Surveys were hand delivered to the food service director of each institutional buyer by a member of the Southeastern NC Food System Council. Surveys were accompanied by a letter explaining the purpose of the research project. A stamped envelope was also included with the survey, so that they could be completed and mailed back to the researcher and information provided by the institutional buyer would remain confidential. Phone calls were made to the food service directors at the institutions to ensure that they had received the survey and to encourage the food service director to complete the survey.

Southeastern NC is a region with a rich agricultural tradition. However, this agricultural tradition mainly serves the export economy rather than the local economy. Moving from serving this export economy to the local economy presents challenges and needs. In addition, the interests of farmers to do so must be examined. If farmers are to produce for a local economy, not only would a greater percentage of the food dollar be collected, but also that money would strengthen the local economy. In order to capture the potential for such a circumstance, the needs, challenges and interests of farmers, especially limited resource farmers, must be examined.

Methodology
In order to understand the needs, challenges and interests of Limited Resource Farmers in moving from export food production to local food production, farmers were identified and surveyed on their demographics, production and barriers and concerns for producing for a local market. Farmers were identified utilizing multiple snowball methods. A list from NC Farm Fresh was combined with a list from the local cooperative, Tidal Creek. Together, this list provided 55 farmers. In addition, other Limited Resource Farmer contacts were gathered at NC Cooperative Extension Service farmer meetings as well as Farmers’ Market meetings.

A survey was compiled that garnered information regarding farmer demographics, production and barriers and concerns of participating in a local food production program. A letter was then completed informing the farmer of the survey, asking them to call our phone surveyor – so that the survey could be conducted over the phone. Phone surveys were complete because of concerns regarding literacy of the farmers, the lengthiness of the surveys, which could have deterred people from completing them, and the need to gain accurate information in a timely fashion from all farmers. A phone was leased from UNCW for two months in order to complete the phone survey. Surveys were conducted in February and March, a time during which NC farmers are still preparing their farm, and thus more likely to be available by phone. Some phone calls were received from farmers after receiving the letter; however, most surveys were completed during follow-up calls by the surveyor. Out of more than 55 farmers that were contacted, 34 surveys were completed of which 25 respondents were identified as Limited Resource Farmers. Although definitions of “limited resource farmer” vary, in this study we considered any farmer who produced less than $100,000 per year in sales to be a “limited resource farmer”.

Institutional buying patterns and expenses reveal aspects that are pertinent to understand for the implementation of a local food purchasing system. Local products must be competitive with the current products purchased by institutions in order for institutions to choose local products over their current products. Examining institutional buying patterns and expenses reveals these products that can be competitive.
Methodology
In order to identify food purchasing opportunities where local food production could be competitive with existing and rising purchasing prices of imported foods, and therefore result in cost saving and other benefits to institutional buyers, buying patterns and expenses of institutional buyers were analyzed. In the survey to the list of 30 institutional buyers in Southeastern NC, questions regarding expenses and buying patterns were included. These questions asked about annual food budget, % of budget spent on fruits and vegetables, % of budget spent on local products, delivery frequency of fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat products, specifications for purchasing and sources of local products.

Farmers’ Markets present direct market opportunities for farmers who are able to keep the entire profit of their products, selling directly to the consumer. Farmers’ markets also provide communal places where community members can meet and greet one another as well as get to know their farmer and how their food was produced. Farmers’ Markets in Southeastern NC have steadily increased over the past years, with 3 new farmers’ markets this year alone. The problem noted most often from farmers at farmers’ markets is that there is a demand for more farmers. There are a total of 11 farmers’ markets in the six county region of Southeastern NC with many farmers participating in as many as 4 or 5.
Methodology
Farmers’ markets were visited in order to obtain a detailed description of the markets and market managers and participating farmers were contacted for information regarding participation and sales.
Public schools are institutional buyers that present opportunities for local food purchasing initiatives (Joshi et, al., 2008). Farm-to-school programs enable farmers to access new markets through schools and provide arenas for schools to educate their students about local food and agriculture (Farm to School, 2006). Today, it is estimated that there are over 2,000 programs in 39 states where public K-12 schools are buying local produce. Both schools and small farmers benefit in farm-to-school programs (United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, 2000).

School meals play an important role in the dietary health of many low-income students (Burlington Food Council, 2004). Students from low-income families are at an increased risk of being food insecure or lacking adequate access to foods in order to fulfill basic dietary needs. School meals allow students, especially low-income students, the opportunity to gain nutrients that are critical for meeting daily dietary needs. Both nutrition education and nutritious meals can be accessed in public schools contributing not only to a nutrient rich diet, but also lifestyle skills to maintain such a diet. Farm-to-school programs have been shown to increase intake of nutritious foods (Allen & Guthman, 2006). They also grant access to all children regardless of socio-economic status, offering them the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, which can be difficult to access in low-income communities.

With the current epidemic of childhood obesity, it is critical that students are provided with healthy options and that healthy eating is promoted (Izumi et, al., 2006). During the school year, students eat at least five meals at school per week, up to 40% of their meals, through the National School Lunch Program (Dillon, 2007). Thus, schools are strategically positioned to utilize their school lunch program to promote healthy eating (Izumi et, al., 2006). Incorporating local foods into schools’ meals is beneficial to student health (Izumi et, al., 2006; Allen & Guthman, 2006).

Methodology

For this research, interviews were conducted with Child Nutrition Directors in the six-county region of Southeastern NC. These interviews revealed current systems for purchasing produce, the interests of Child Nutrition Directors to participate in farm-to-school programs as well as the barriers and challenges faced by Child Nutrition Directors to participate in a farm-to-school program.
Small and medium sized farmers are most likely to utilize sustainable agriculture practices as they benefit from diversification of crops for high-yield productions. Thus, an emphasis upon small and medium sized farmers is placed in the creation of a local and regional food system. In addition, small and medium sized farmers are also more likely to be limited resource farmers, unable to obtain those resources needed to increase their profits. Targeting limited resource farmers in our area not only addresses the high poverty rates, but also deliberately confronts issues of social justice in farming. While there are multiple and conflicting definitions of limited resource farmers, our definition serves to be inclusive of the many ways in which farmers can be limited in resources. Assisting limited resource farmers through expanding markets with a local and regional food system will help to alleviate poverty, increase local food production and preserve farmland as well as the agricultural heritage accompanied with that farmland.
Methodology
Identifying small and medium sized limited resource farmers to participate in a local food purchasing program was executed through the same surveys disseminated to region-wide farmers. Those low-income farmers (less than $100,000 in sales)growing on small to medium sized farms (less than 150 acres with less than 100 animals) were utilized to develop a list of farmers that could be identified as limited resource farmers. Information regarding the demographics of these farmers was taken from the surveys completed by the farmers.
Organic production is the most sustainable way to farm. Organic production involves using only natural inputs into order to enhance the agricultural products. Organic production often relies on companion planting and mixing animals with crop production in order to naturally deter pests. Therefore, no synthetic chemicals come into contact with the products and are not passed along to the consumer. Consumers are beginning to demand organic products. Organic products are often sold at higher prices than conventional products, allowing the farmer to gain more profits for growing organic. Because organic farming benefits both the environment and consumers greatly and allows farmers greater returns, those farmers using organic farming practices were examined.
Methodology
In the process of identifying organic farmers, we realized that our goal of twelve organic farmers, six large and six small, with an average of two organic farmers per county, was a false depiction of organic farmers in Southeastern, NC. Through the Southeastern NC Food System Council and the farmer surveys, nine organic farmers were identified as using organic farming practices, four with their organic certification. However, an additional five farmers were identified as utilizing pesticide free, herbicide free and/or naturally grown practices. While these practices cannot be labeled as organic farming practices, they involve sustainable farming practices and should be dually noted. In addition, because of the low numbers of organic farmers identified, those farmers implementing sustainable farming practices will be considered when comparing profit margins of those farmers employing conventional farming practices with those employing organic and/or sustainable farming practices. Of the nine organic farmers, five of the farmers were willing to talk openly and in-depth about the reasons for beginning or transitioning to organic farming. These farmers were gathered together in a room to discuss their experience with organic farming along with marketing local, organic products.

Research results and discussion:

Interests, Needs, and Challenges in Participating in an Institutional Buying System

Of the 30 institutional buyers that were solicited to partake in the survey, 18 surveys were completed. Six of the respondents were K-12 public schools, five were prisons, 4 were community colleges or universities and three were hospitals. Over 500,000 meals are served per week in all of these institutions. The annual food budget in only 13 of the 18 institutions exceeds $22 million of which 10% is spent on fresh fruits and vegetables (over $2 million). Five of the eighteen food service programs were managed by a food service management company. Because of this, the food service director had little discretion over the purchasing of products; rather decisions were made within the food service management company. However, 66% of the institutional buyers were interested in a local food purchasing program and 26% indicated that they wanted more information. Only 6% of the institutional buyers were not interested in a local food purchasing program. Needs of the institutional buyers were captured through inquiring about those things that are most important when making food purchasing decisions (see Table 2).
Affordable price, consistent quality, nutritional value, flavor, vendor liability insurance, available quantity, dependable delivery, and good reputation were those factors indicated as important to institutional buyers. In order to purchase from local producers, these factors would have to be met. Challenges of participating in a local food purchasing program were obtained by asking institutional buyers to indicate those factors that would prevent them from purchasing from local producers (see Table 3). Cost, transportation or delivery and institutional contracts were those factors that were indicated as preventing institutions from purchasing local products. Thus, high costs, limited ability for delivery and institutional contracts would prevent institutions from purchasing locally.
Through this research, it is clear that institutional buyers are interested in purchasing from local products. Local products can also fulfill their needs as they tend to be high in nutritional value and retain greater flavor than those products shipped from further away. In order to fulfill all of the needs of institutional buyers, local products must be affordable, high in quality and quantity, able to be delivered with consistency. Institutional buyers like to know that they are dealing with a reliable source and are not apt to take risks, thus these needs must be met in order for institutional buyers to purchase from local farmers. Those needs that are most important, becoming challenges for institutional buyers to purchase from local sources, are cost, transportation and institutional contracts. There is a potential for a local food purchasing program to be created in Southeastern NC. With at least 30 institutional buyers available to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables spending well over $ 2 million for produce, this money could be re-circulated back into the local economy contributing to the economic development of the region.
Farmer Demographics
Farmers represented in the survey were from Pender (9), Robeson (4), Columbus (6), New Hanover (5), Brunswick (3) and Bladen (7) Counties. Farm size was measured in acres for those farms growing crops and by number of animals for those farms raising livestock. Just over half of the farmers surveyed were growing crops (53%) and 30% were growing crops and raising livestock. Out of the 25 farmers that grow crops, the majority have small farms and grow on less than 10 acres of land (53%); however, the second largest category of farmers have farms over 150 acres (30%). Eleven farmers surveyed raised livestock; five farmers had less than 50 animals, three between 50 and 100 animals and three with more than 150 animals. Those farms with over 100 animals raised 195, 286, and 869 animals. Those farms with less than 10 acres of crop land and less than 50 animals were labeled as small farms; those with between 11 and 150 acres of crop land and between 50 and 150 animals were labeled as medium sized farms; and those farmers with over 150 acres of crop land and over 100 animals were labeled as large farms(see table 4).

Race was measured utilizing the categories of American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black/African American, Latino/a, White/European Decent, and other. The majority of farmers surveyed indicated that they were White/European Decent (73%). Seven or 21% of the farmers surveyed indicated that they were Black/African American, and one farmer surveyed indicated that he or she was American Indian. While the majority of farmers surveyed were male (75%), the depiction of gender of the farm owner/operator is unclear because it may simply reflect which partner of a couple actually completed the interview. Age of the farmer was captured by asking the year of birth of the farmers. Of the 34farmers surveyed, seven were under 45 years old, two-thirds were over 45 years old, and 3 were over 65. The majority of farmers being over 45 reflects the North Carolina State statistics of farmers who are aging out of farming.

Productivity of the farmers surveyed was captured through questions regarding farm customers, farm sales, and farm profit as well as farm operation (part-time/seasonally or full-time). In general, number of customers, sales in dollars and sales in profits had increased for these respondents over the past five years. However, the increases were most consistent among large-volume farms. Six farmers who participated in telephone surveys volunteered that they had lost significant amounts of customers/sales due to the very recent recession (see Table 5).Examining the farm operation of those farmers surveyed reveals that 16 out of 35 (almost half) farmers surveyed are farming part-time or seasonally. Eighty-three percent of those with sales over $100,000 are farming full time; only one farmer that farms part-time or seasonally has farm sales that exceed $100,000.
Farmer Production
Farm production was measured by products available (types of crops and livestock), production methods and markets. Southeastern NC is a bountiful area for a variety of both crops and livestock. Crops grown included a multitude of varieties of corn, soybeans, sweet potatoes, tobacco, timber, wheat, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, legumes, fruit trees, cantaloupes, watermelons, peppers, carrots, potatoes, nuts, berries, herbs, lettuces, and much more. Livestock raised included pasture hogs, broilers, range chickens, turkeys, beef cattle, horses, meat goats, grass fed beef cattle and direct market beef cattle. Nine farmers surveyed indicated that they would like to expand their production capacity and 14 farmers indicated that they would like to diversify their production.

The majority of the limited-resource respondents used some type of sustainable practices such as natural pesticides or fertilizers, although few had acquired the formal certification for any sustainably-grown products(see table 1).Limited resource farmers were much more likely to use sustainable practices than were non-limited-resource farmers. Six farmers volunteered that although they did not consider themselves to use sustainable practices they at least partially employed tactics borrowed from sustainable practices. Examples included using compost instead of commercial fertilizer, minimal pesticide use, and minimal anti-biotic and hormone use. Three farmers volunteered that although they were not engaged in sustainable practices, they were interested in experimenting with or possibly transitioning to organic or naturally grown farming. Seven farmers said that organic certification was too expensive, too tedious, and/or simply felt it was unnecessary. The majority of these farmers practiced at least some sustainable methods but had no formal certifications for these practices.

Farmers’ Markets, Restaurants and Clubs, and Farm Stands were the most frequent sales venues. Community Supported agriculture (CSA; direct farm-to-family sales programs), U-picks, and Marketing Cooperatives were much less utilized,and all farmers who sold through a cooperative or a CSA made less than $10,000 per year. Institutions were not used as a direct market for any of these farmers. “Other” categories included grocery stores and convenience stores (see Table 6).
Barriers and Challenges
Examining production through products produced, production methods and markets indicates those markets that are currently being produced for. This information reveals that most farmers are producing on a small or medium scale and they are producing for local markets (road-side stands, farmers’ markets, and restaurants and clubs). Thus, this research cannot be used to examine the needs and challenges of limited resource farmers moving from export production to local production, but rather the needs and challenges of limited resource farmers to increase both their production and sales to serve local markets in a greater capacity while revealing those needs and challenges of farmers who do produce for an export economy to move to producing for a local economy.

Challenges were captured by providing farmers with a list of non-mutually exclusive categories of challenges that they might face. Insurance costs were the most common obstacle for respondents. Three farmers who participated in telephone surveys said that liability insurance was an issue for them. These farmers all had operations that included agri-tourism or U-pick. Two of these farmers were grape growers who offered vineyard tours to their customers. Two limited resource-farmers also cited natural disasters such as drought and hurricanes as major obstacles (Table 7).
Almost 90% of respondents listed a need for assistance. Marketing and sales assistance were the most frequently listed need (79%). Seventy one percent said that technical assistance would be helpful. Two farmers reported a need for labor and farm resources. Almost all of the farmers who participated in telephone interviews stated that they were interested in expanding their operations by increasing sales, attracting new customers, and/or increasing their production. The smallest-volume farmers were much more likely to report a need for assistance with r

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

These findings are posted on the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Program web site: www.feastsoutheastnc.org. Presentations of these findings have been disseminated through farmer meetings, SENCFS Council meetings and convenings throughout the region. Feedback from SENCFS members has been solicited and incorporated into the final report.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

A vast amount of data was collected for the purpose of developing a local and regional food system in Southeastern NC, expanding market opportunities for farmers, especially those limited resource farmers. One goal of the research was to collect information regarding production in Southeastern NC, to understand the current amount of products produced and how these products may serve markets. Another goal of collecting information regarding production was to understand those needs and challenges of farmers that must be met in order for them to adequately produce for a local or regional food system. Another goal of the research was to understand the market opportunities available for farmers whether they be direct markets through farmers’ markets or institutional buying markets utilizing those large institutions present in both the rural and urban counties of the region. This data provides an understanding of what is being produced, using what production methods, at what capacity and who is producing it. It also provides an understanding of who is purchasing food, who is willing to purchase food from local suppliers and how their food purchasing systems operate. Those needs, challenges and barriers of both producers and purchasers was captured in order for the Southeastern NC Food System Program can address them to develop a local and regional food system program.
Through the development of a local and regional food system program, economic development will result. Food dollars stay within the region, not only enhancing the economic circumstance for farmers, especially limited resource farmers, but also enhancing the economy of the region as a whole. Developing a regional food system also presents opportunities for entrepreneurial development through the creation of processing and distribution facilities to meet the needs of institutional buyers. The need for intermediaries between small and medium sized farmers and institutional buyers is also evident in the large- scale purchases of institutional buyers. Small and medium sized farmers products will most likely need to be compiled together to provide the quantity that institutional buyers demand, creating a need for a distribution facility. Along with a distribution facility, the need for storage, cooling and freezing of products is also apparent. For example, many of the schools systems in the region are interested in purchasing local produce. However, the school season and the harvesting season do not coincide. If these products were frozen, schools could use them when needed.
As displayed with the farm-to-school research, there are a variety of ways in which a local or regional food system could be implemented. This demonstrates that institutions can be flexible if they are willing to purchase from local producers. Most institutions say that they are interested and if a local food purchasing system was created, they would participate. In order to create an optimal program for their participation, their needs must be met. The most important needs being regulation compliance, affordable cost and delivery. Creating a distribution facility that coordinated products of farmers across the region could address regulation compliance, like the situation with Madison Farms, as well as delivery.
Addressing cost in an institutional buying market is difficult. Due to lower transportation costs, it could be argued that local products would be more competitive; however, unlike large monoculture operations, farmers are often unable to offer products at such low prices. Organic and sustainable farming operations that are small and medium sized, incur more operating expenses. Perhaps low transportation prices would mediate higher prices for the product. Another consideration would be for farmers to diversify their production across many markets. Direct markets like farmers’ markets allow farmers to receive the entire profit for their product. Capitalizing on direct market opportunities and institutional buying opportunities may provide farmers with optimal marketing outlets.
Through the survey, many assistance needs were identified by farmers, especially the limited resource farmers in Southeastern NC. While it is acknowledged that the sample of farmers surveyed for this research was small, it nonetheless represents issues faced by the small, limited resource farming operations in Southeastern NC. The most cited need was the need for marketing assistance. Farmers are in need of expanded market opportunities, whereby consumers are made aware of their products. Developing a local and regional food system could address this need in two ways. One way would be expanded market opportunities by developing local food system purchasing programs with institutional buyers and expanding direct market opportunities through the development of farmers’ markets. The integrity of farmers’ markets is recognized as an area that needs to be addressed as well, with management, signage and advertising helping to expose the consumer to a variety of products while educating them to be informed consumers. In addition to forming and expanding markets for farmers, certifications, especially organic certification allowing farmers’ to access greater markets is needed. The organic certification process must be subsidized for limited resource farmers. Providing a system in which limited resource farmers are able to be certified organic will not only help to increase their profit margins through expanded markets, but will also contribute to the sustainable farming in southeastern, NC and exposing consumers to more organic products. Another way in which developing a local and regional food system could address farmers’ needs would be for the Southeastern NC Food System Program to educate consumers in Southeastern NC with a buy local campaign. Buy local campaigns have been very successful and help to advertise the local products available. They can also help educate consumers about farming practices, healthy diets and economic benefits of consuming locally grown products.
There is much coordination and collaboration that must take place among a variety of stakeholders. Through this research, relationships with both farmers and institutional buyers were established and can be built upon. In order to develop a successful local and regional food system, these constituents must be present in the decision-making processes. With consideration of the compiled data through this research with the intent of developing a local and regional food system, the following steps are recommended for the Southeastern NC Food System Program:
1. Present Institutional Buyers with the models for implementing an institutional buying program
a. Purchasing directly from individual farmers
b. Purchasing through a local distribution facility
c. Purchasing through their venders
2. Identify resources needed to address farmers’ needs; bring these resources to farmers
3. Develop buy local marketing campaign; utilize this campaign to support organic farmers and direct market opportunities
Developing a local and regional food system will rely upon the relationships built both with the producers, purchasers and consumers. Following these three recommended steps allows the Southeastern NC Food System program to nurture and develop these newly established relationships with farmers and purchasers. As the food system council involves these stakeholders in the development of a local and regional food system, the system that results is sure to satisfy the needs of all of the stakeholders involved. What can result is a system whereby sustainably produced agriculture products are consumed close to where they were produced and the money used to purchase the products stays within the community. This system has numerous benefits to the environment, the economy, and the health and well-being of the community, both the consumers and the producers.

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.