Appalachian Grown: Toward Regional Community-based Food Systems

Final Report for LS03-146

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $154,030.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Charlie Jackson
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
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Project Information

Abstract:

This multi-year project focused on Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s (ASAP) Local Food Campaign. The goal of “Appalachian Grown: Toward Regional Community-Based Food Systems” has been to continue research and development of a “buy local food” campaign as a strategic component in establishing community-based food systems throughout the Southern Appalachian region. The project has facilitated an understanding of the existing regional food system and has established assessment and implementation “buy local food campaign” methodologies for sustainable community-based food systems.

Project Objectives:

Project objectives are: 1. Assess the existing project area food system and identify barriers and opportunities regarding community-based food systems, 2. Assess local markets and consumer preferences in context of the ASAP “buy local food” campaign, 3. Evaluate ASAP’s “buy local food” campaign impacts, and 4. Inventory existing and emerging “buy local food” campaigns in Southern Appalachia and disseminate project and national initiative results.

Project outcomes will directly serve the production and marketing interests of small family farmers and will establish approaches that will assist communities interested in linking local production capacity with local consumption demand. Research and education initiatives will assist community efforts regarding “buy local food” campaigns. Outcomes will describe economic impacts of the existing food system and the potential positive economic and security benefits of “buy local food” campaigns and community-based food systems.

The twenty individual reports and one master report developed under the SARE-funded project cumulatively contribute a large body of knowledge on the food system of the Southern Appalachian region, particularly in the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area. The research establishes baselines for future comparison, identifies significant opportunities for developing the local foods production and distribution system, and identifies the chief barriers facing the local foods movement in the region.

The research successfully describes the local foods market and the positive impact of the local food campaign led by ASAP during the grant-funded period, with conclusions that will help guide activities in expanding market opportunities for local farmers. Reports document a consumer-driven demand for greater access to locally grown food via most supply chain systems.

Evaluation of ASAP’s local food campaign was largely achieved through evaluating the impact of ASAP’s Local Food Guide. Other activities, including advertising, media exposure, and a highly successful distribution of nearly 30,000 “Local Food!” bumper stickers have likely contributed to the growth of the market. A comparison of changes in consumer behavior from 2000 to 2004 implies that ASAP’s activities have been succeeding. ASAP’s major activities of the Local Food Campaign include public education and promotional work; farmer training and support; Growing Minds and farm-to-school efforts; development of the Appalachian Grown certified local labeling program; and publishing and distributing the Local Food Guide.

Existing and emerging local food campaigns in the Southern Appalachians successfully was documented, as described in A Survey of Local Food Activities in the Southern Appalachian Region.

Introduction:

The purpose of the research has been to: (1) explore what food and farm products are currently produced in the region; (2) examine how much of what is produced is also consumed in the region; (3) consider the potential for increasing local consumption of locally-produced food and farm products as a way to strengthen the regional farm economy; and (4) identify points where investment of resources or other actions could eliminate barriers currently impeding the purchase of local food. The final report presents a wide-ranging collection of information on the region’s food and farm economy, which can form the basis for future efforts to expand local markets for local farm products.

Research findings are based on results from twenty separate surveys conducted between 2003 and 2007 as well as analysis of secondary data. Stakeholders surveyed and interviewed include consumers, farmers’ market shoppers and vendors, North Carolina Cooperative Extension (NCCE) agents, farms engaged in Community Supported Agriculture, college foodservice directors, summer camp directors, child nutrition directors in public school districts, hospital foodservice directors, tourism agencies, personnel in Latino centers, dairy farmers, grocery stores, restaurants, and nursery growers. The geographic area studied is the twenty-three Appalachian counties known as Western North Carolina (WNC).

Underlying the research is the assumption that local markets can improve farm profitability. The profit potential lies in price premiums tied to strong demand for local food as well as the possibility for reduced distribution and transportation costs associated with selling to local markets. The data collected for this study are used to quantify current demand and the potential for local consumption of local farm products in the region as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of ASAP’s efforts to rebuild the local food system. While the report relies on many assumptions and complex formulas to generate estimates of current and potential demand, the intent is to show, in numbers, the relative importance of various market channels and help identify places where an investment of resources can foster meaningful change in the local food and farm economy.

Additionally, this research recognizes that there are differences in the price of food at different points in the transaction chain from farm to table. Retail value indicates the amount that consumers pay for food and wholesale value is what businesses or organizations would pay for the food. A third value, farm value, reflects the amount that farmers receive for the food they sell. Farm value is often referred to as a percentage of the retail price of food in the report and careful attention is paid to naming the value being represented so that comparisons can be made across categories and a single figure (or range) can be calculated to describe the local food system in dollars.

While this project is large and covers many topics relevant to expanding the farming economy of WNC, food is the primary focus. Other crops, while significant to WNC’s farming economy (e.g., nursery crops and Christmas trees), are not included in the tables or figures describing local market potential for local farm products. How much consumers and businesses in the region value locally-produced items that are not food (i.e., would be willing to pay more for them) and how interested producers of those crops are in shifting to local markets is uncertain. To help answer these questions, additional research is needed. The wine industry is another relatively large and growing sector of the region’s agricultural economy that is only briefly covered.

These omissions are beyond the scope of this research and reflect a concentration on fresh produce. The produce focus is based on growth in sales of fresh fruits and vegetables through direct marketing channels over the course of ASAP’s Local Food Campaign. A major purpose of this study has been to move beyond the direct marketing focus and quantify the potential in higher volume markets. Accordingly, the report includes a bias towards larger-scale markets. The infrastructural and distribution issues associated with the expansion of larger-scale markets are emphasized, for example, more than infrastructure issues involved in supporting the development of new or expanded Community Supported Agriculture programs (where consumers buy a share of a farm’s output before the season starts) or on-farm retail.

Research

Materials and methods:

Methodologies: Utilizing effective inventory techniques and analysis models, an inventory and assessment of the current regional food system were conducted. Consumer preferences regarding buying locally grown food were benchmarked through surveys and interviews. Progress in market expansion was measured in sales and commodity metrics. A project collaborative working group, regional roundtables, and expert consultations, along with successful models, all shaped and guided the approach.

This project conducted twenty separate surveys between 2003 and 2007 as well as conducted analysis of secondary data and published statistics. Stakeholders surveyed and interviewed include consumers, farmers’ market shoppers and vendors, North Carolina Cooperative Extension (NCCE) agents, farms engaged in Community Supported Agriculture, college foodservice directors, summer camp directors, child nutrition directors in public school districts, hospital foodservice directors, tourism agencies, personnel in Latino centers, dairy farmers, grocery stores, restaurants, and nursery growers. The geographic area studied is the twenty-three Appalachian counties known as Western North Carolina (WNC).

The following surveys and reports were conducted and compiled between 2003 and 2007:

Locally Grown Foods Strategic Positioning Research – A phone survey of 300 randomly selected consumers in Buncombe, Madison and Henderson counties conducted in 2000 and repeated in 2004. Respondents were consumers were over 18 years of age who reported that they do the majority of grocery shopping for their households.

WNC Food and Farm Economy: Highlights of a Data Compilation – This compilation includes selected data items from the USDA Census of Agriculture for the 23 counties of WNC, as well as information showing estimated fruit and vegetable consumption in the region.

A Market Analysis of Tailgate Farmers’ Markets of Buncombe and Madison Counties – Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 694 shoppers at six tailgate markets in the summers of 2003 and 2004. An additional 732 rapid-response “dot surveys” were completed in 2003 in which shoppers were asked to answer 5 questions by placing a dot on a poster listing possible answers to the questions.

Results from a Survey of Farmers’ Tailgate Market Vendors in Buncombe and Madison Counties – Written questionnaires were completed anonymously by 61 vendors representing eight tailgate markets in Buncombe and Madison Counties during the summer of 2003.

Community Supported Agriculture in the French Broad River Basin – In 2004, an email questionnaire was completed by 12 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms listed in ASAP’s Local Food Guide that year.

Results from a WNC Farm-to-College Survey – Phone interviews were completed with Foodservice Directors at 15 of 17 (88%) colleges and universities in WNC during the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 academic years.

Summer Camps as a Potential Market Channel for Locally Grown Food in WNC – Representatives from 23 camps completed an online survey in the Spring of 2006.

Defining Success in the Farm-to-School Arena – In-depth interviews were conducted with Child Nutrition Directors in five public school districts in WNC in January of 2006. A written questionnaire was completed by other Child Nutrition Directors.

Restaurants as a Market Channel for Locally Grown Food in WNC – This report uses data from the 2002 US Economic Census to project the potential for locally grown food purchases by full-service restaurants in WNC.

Local Food Purchasing by Highly Motivated Businesses and Consumers in Western North Carolina – This report presents data from two surveys: 1) In response to a link posted on ASAP’s website, an online survey of consumers with high interest in local food was completed by 87 consumers during the fall of 2006; 2) A written questionnaire was completed by 40 organizations with established high interest in buying locally grown food in the fall of 2006.

A Survey of Licensed Dairies in WNC – A written questionnaire was completed by 27 dairy farmers in WNC during fall of 2006.

The Value of Appalachian Grown™ labeling for Nursery Growers in WNC – A written questionnaire was completed by 109 nursery growers (not including Christmas tree growers) in WNC during the summer of 2006.

A Survey of Local Food Activities in the Southern Appalachian Region – Phase I of this research, completed during 2004, involved an email survey of Agricultural Extension agents and selected non-profit organizations in 100 counties of Southern Appalachia. The purpose of this initial survey was to gather information about local food campaigns and activities in the region. Phase II involved in-depth interviews in 2006 of 22 Program Directors of non-profit and academic groups working on local food system issues in the Southern Appalachian region.

Hospital Foodservice in WNC: Implications for the Local Food System – A phone survey of 15 hospitals in WNC was conducted during the fall of 2006.

A Survey of NC Cooperative Extension Agents in WNC – During the fall of 2006 a written questionnaire was completed by 22 NC Cooperative Extension agents representing counties of WNC and the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

A Survey of Shoppers at the WNC Farmers’ Market – Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 75 shoppers at the WNC Farmers Market during the summer of 2006.

Opportunities for Expanding Food and Farm Tourism in WNC – Eleven tourism agencies representing counties of WNC completed an online survey in the summer of 2006.

Exploring the Role of Latinos in the WNC Food System – Seven Latino Centers in WNC were asked a series of questions about Latino farmers, farmworkers, restaurant owners and tiendas in their communities.

The Infrastructure of Food Procurement and Distribution: Implications for WNC Farmers – This report examines the food industry in the U.S. and its implications for farmers in WNC who want to grow for and sell to local markets. Local patterns of distribution are presented as models with an emphasis on their potential to accommodate more local food with further development. Data on local systems are drawn from participant observation; from formal and informal interviews with local producers, processors, and wholesalers; and from local news outlets.
Food Policy Councils: What and Why? – This paper reviews the work of Food Policy Councils in the U.S.

Research results and discussion:

The region has a long farming tradition and, despite national trends of farm loss and agricultural consolidation, farming remains vital to this region of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. In a snapshot, WNC is home to over 12,000 farms producing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products, and non-food crops like Christmas trees, tobacco, and nursery plants. Farms occupy a third of the privately owned land in the region and in 2002 the region’s farms earned $543 million in cash receipts. Tourism, the region’s number one industry, is driven largely by the scenic farm landscapes and natural beauty of the region. Taken together, these facts demonstrate the significance of agriculture to the region’s economy and to issues surrounding land-use planning.

The farm economy in WNC is in a period of transition, echoing a national trend in the decline in farms and acres of farmland. To some extent change is being driven by the end of the federal tobacco price support and supply control program. Other shifts are occurring simultaneously. In the decade between 1992 and 2002, the region experienced a 16 percent increase in fruit and vegetable crops and a 25 percent increase in acres devoted to non-food crops. Direct Sales – the USDA category used to describe transactions directly between farmers and consumers – have more than doubled and are expected to continue growing, bolstered by strong demand for locally-grown food. For the region of WNC, the research finds a desire by consumers and businesses for $36.5 million for fresh fruits and vegetables and nearly $452 million for all foods including meat, dairy, and processed products. In this context of transition, the potential for expanding local markets for local products is significant.

In this report, the emphasis on expanding local markets for local farm products is based on an underlying assumption that local markets can improve farm profitability. Profit potential lies in price premiums tied to strong demand for local food as well as the possibility for reduced distribution and transportation costs associated with selling to local markets. In this sense, local markets can exert a positive influence on farm profitability as well as contribute to regional economic wealth by keeping dollars spent on food circulating in the local economy.

The research found strong demand for locally-grown food by WNC consumers and across all market segments surveyed. For the majority of consumers surveyed, local food represents a fresher, tastier option to foods produced in more distant regions, and the purchase of local food represents a way to support local farmers and local communities, protect the environment, and preserve the rural character of the region. Consumers reported spending a greater percentage of their total monthly food bill on locally-grown food in 2004 compared to 2000. At farmers’ markets average per capita expenditures increased from 2003 to 2004 and the percentage of weekly shoppers spending more than $20 at the markets increased from 24 percent in 2003 to 36 percent in 2004. More than three quarters of residents surveyed said that when local foods cost a little more, they are worth the extra cost. Significantly, 82 percent of WNC respondents indicated that they would buy more locally-produced food if it were labeled local.

Strong consumer demand for local food is evident by the growth in direct-marketing opportunities for local farmers and high interest in securing locally-grown foods by larger-scale businesses and institutions in the region. To better understand and quantify market demand and establish realistic goals for sourcing local food, this study measured the level of desire to source local food by specific market segments. It also factored in climate conditions and the seasonality of local food production.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The complete report—Growing Local: Expanding the Western North Carolina Food and Farm Economy and the summary report—Growing Local: Implications for Western North Carolina have been printed and made available to local media, elected officials, public and private decision makers, NCSU Extension personnel, and the public and are available to download at www.asapconnections.org. The following individual reports are also available to download:

Locally Grown Foods Strategic Positioning Research
A Market Analysis of Tailgate Farmers’ Markets of Buncombe and Madison Counties

Results from a Survey of Farmers’ Tailgate Market Vendors in Buncombe and Madison Counties

Community Supported Agriculture in the French Broad River Basin

Results from a Western North Carolina Farm-to-College Survey

Defining Success in the Farm-to-School Arena

Western North Carolina Food and Farm Economy

Summer Camps and Local Food in WNC

The Value of Appalachian Grown Labeling for Nursery Growers in WNC

Opportunities for Expanding Food and Farm Tourism in WNC

Hospital Foodservice in WNC: Implications for the Local Food System

A Survey of Local Food Activities in the Southern Appalachian Region

A Survey of Cooperative Extension Agents in Western North Carolina

Local Food Purchasing by Highly Motivated Consumers and Businesses

A Survey of Shoppers at the Western North Carolina Farmers Market

Exploring the Role of Latinos in the Western North Carolina Food System

An Evaluation of the Local Food Guide and Local Food Campaign

Restaurants as a Potential Market for Local Farm Products in WNC

A Survey of Licensed Dairies in WNC

Examples to Follow: Case Studies From Within The Local Food System

Food Distribution and Processing Infrastructure in WNC: Implications for the Local Food System

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Across all markets – from direct to consumer to the largest regional grocery chains – there is growing local demand for food from southern Appalachian farms. Current spending on locally-grown food is estimated at $14.5 million. Desired spending on local food—a number that reflects changes in infrastructure that would allow businesses and institutions to procure desired quantities and types of local food—represents a much higher amount and is calculated at over $451.9 million. This figure equals 18 percent of total food spending by consumers and visitors in the region (compared with less than 1 percent today) and represents a long-term goal that can be accomplished only if there are significant improvements in local food processing and distribution systems as well as changes in consumer purchasing.

High demand coupled with a long growing season, fertile soils, and innovative farmers result in good and local market opportunities for farmers in the region. With improvements in infrastructure to accommodate more local there is ample room to grow markets as well as welcome new farmers. With policy change and regional support for family farms there is the opportunity to strengthen rural economies and slow the loss of farmland. All of these factors combined provide WNC with the opportunity to continue to have many family farms that maintain a scenic landscape while providing the citizens of the region the foods they desire.

The research confirms that there are areas where it is appropriate to expand what is currently being done and other areas where new initiatives and additional research are needed. Within these recommendations there are many action steps that can be taken. These recommendations are part of a broad agenda for expanding local markets for local farm products in the region. Achieving a strong and successful local food system is one way to improve the profitability of WNC farms and help maintain working farmland in the region.

Recommendations:

Develop Trusted Local Food Labels – This research confirms the need for better labeling of local foods where people shop and eat. Labeling allows consumers to act on their preference for locally grown food and it allows price premiums associated with the food being locally grown to accrue to producers. Local branding is a way to add value to local farm products.

Boost Outreach Efforts Targeting Larger-Scale Markets – ASAP’s Local Food Guide provides information to consumers about where to find locally grown food in the region, but similar publications are needed to show larger-scale buyers where to find locally grown food and how to make local purchasing work. Similar publications specific to large scale buyers such as hospitals, summer camps, school and colleges are needed.

Support Farmers’ Efforts to Satisfy Local Demand – Farmers may need assistance and information regarding strategies for selling to local markets. For direct markets, basic business management and marketing skills are important. For larger scale markets, market assessment assistance, business planning, information on packaging and labeling requirements as well as how producers can address buyers’ food safety concerns are critical to success. Growers may also need information about shifting to fruit and vegetable production and instruction on how to use more sustainable production methods, which are increasingly important in local markets.

Create State and Local Policies to Favor Local Food Distribution and Sales – Processing requirements for meat and dairy products vary considerably from state to state. North Carolina should look to models in other states and take action to favor local food systems. By working with policymakers at both state and local levels, local food advocates can not only pursue changes in policies affecting producers in the region, but keep agriculture issues at the forefront of the many regional planning and promotion efforts. Policy advocacy is also important as it relates to expanding the reach of local markets into low-income market segments. Accepting food stamps, for example, can be logistically problematic for markets that traditionally operate on a cash economy.

Align Tourism and Agriculture – Tourism and agriculture are two of the largest industries in the region, but except for on-farm agritourism, they operate more or less independently of each other. There are opportunities for both industries to benefit from working together to promote food and farm tourism in the region.

Expand Direct Marketing Channels – The potential for expanded sales through farmers markets lies in increasing the number and location of markets in addition to continuing the market promotional activities that have been so effective. Expanding tailgate market sales also means offering training, workshops and other resource materials for farmers interested in selling at the markets. Community Supported Agriculture programs hold good potential for expansion in the region.

Improve Public Education and Awareness about Local Food – Strong demand for locally grown food and farm products confirms that efforts to build public awareness and support for local food are working and should be continued. It may be appropriate to add new messages to the public education campaign, including information about how to eat a more seasonal diet or how to recognize local food in the marketplace.

Expand Local Food Activities throughout the Region – Local food awareness and activities have been concentrated in Asheville and surrounding counties. Expanding opportunities for farmers throughout the region to sell their goods locally could mean opening new tailgate markets in more counties. It could also involve expanding the Mountain Tailgate Marketing Association or establishing similar organizations throughout the region.

Foster Collaboration Around Shared Goals – New partnerships need to be formed, relationships expanded, and roles clarified in order to move towards a network of successful local food systems within the region. The agenda is large, broad and far more than any one organization can handle effectively. Outside of agriculture, there are other groups with which partnerships are critical for advancing the local food agenda, including farmworker support agencies, organizations concerned with hunger, health, and food security, and governmental organizations that can facilitate policy changes influencing the ability of local farm products to reach local markets.

Adapt and Encourage Infrastructure for Distribution and Processing – Rebuilding a local food system depends on building the capacity for regional systems of food procurement and distribution. Systems of backhauling and cooperative strategies that pool the resources and products of local farmers have the potential to overcome the market barriers facing local farmers. Steps may involve adapting existing components of the food distribution system to accommodate local as well as establishing new facilities for local processing in the region.

Develop and Support Working Farmland Preservation and Transition Programs – Based on a combination of issues such as the advancing age of farmers, high development pressure and unmet demand for local food and farm products, there is a need for programs and policies to help maintain working farmland in the region. This can be accomplished through initiatives such as farmer transition programs, farmland preservation activities and other strategies affecting land use. Unrelated to land use but still closely related to the ability of the region’s farms to continue and/or expand food production are programs and policies affecting seasonal farm labor. With many individual farm support agencies already working on these issues, this recommendation is as much about achieving a high level of coordination and collaboration among existing agencies as it is about developing any new action steps.

Economic Analysis

According to the market research firm the Hartman Group, “local” is one of the food attributes most highly valued by consumers nationwide and a major trend affecting the food industry. JWT, the largest advertising agency in the U.S., recently identified local food as one of the top ten trends for 2007 and predicted that consumer demand will shift from organics to locally-sourced food. According to the research group Packaged Facts, the market for locally-grown food has grown steadily and will reach $7 billion in 2011.

Surveys designed to measure WNC consumer perceptions of locally-grown food not only demonstrate strong demand, they suggest the willingness of consumers to pay more for local food. For the majority of consumers surveyed, local food represents a fresher, tastier option to foods produced in more distant regions. For those consumers, the purchase of local food represents a way to support local farmers and local communities, protect the environment, and preserve the rural character of the region. In terms of spending, consumers reported spending a greater percentage of their total monthly food bill on locally-grown food in 2004 compared to 2000. More than three quarters of residents surveyed said that when local foods cost a little more, they are worth the extra cost.

Spending at farmers’ markets is also increasing in the region. Average per capita expenditures increased from 2003 to 2004 and the percentage of weekly shoppers spending more than $20 at the markets increased from 24 percent in 2003 to 36 percent in 2004.

The research also demonstrates the value of labeling local products. Eighty-two percent of WNC respondents indicated that they would buy more locally-produced food if it were labeled as local. Local labels convey product values of freshness, quality, and taste, and the labels appeal to consumers’ desire to support local farms and local communities. While not as important in direct markets, labeling local farm products is critical in larger-scale markets to both enable consumers to readily find locally-grown products and to ensure that producers receive the full value of any premium associated with locally-grown food.

Strong consumer demand for local food is evident by the growth in direct-marketing opportunities for local farmers and high interest in securing locally-grown foods by larger-scale businesses and institutions in the region. To better understand and quantify market demand and establish realistic goals for sourcing local food, this study measured the level of desire to source local food by specific market segments. It also factors in climate conditions and the seasonality of local food production.

Demand for locally-grown food is described in terms of spending: current spending, desired spending, and maximum spending. Dollar values reflect retail spending, not prices received by farmers. Current spending refers to the amount of locally-grown produce that is currently being purchased by buyers in the region. Desired spending and maximum spending both represent the potential for locally-grown food in the region. Desired spending refers to the amount of locally-grown food interested buyers would purchase if they were able to get as much as they wanted. Achieving this level of spending would involve altering local food infrastructure and distribution systems so that local food could more easily reach different types of markets. Maximum spending represents the highest possible spending on locally-grown food by consumers and categories of large-scale buyers examined in this report. These spending levels imply infrastructure improvements plus changes in tastes and preferences so that more buyers in each category have high interest in obtaining locally-grown food.

These categories of spending are further broken down to distinguish between (1) demand for only fresh fruits and vegetables and (2) demand for all foods (i.e., fresh produce plus meat, dairy, and processed foods). This distinction is necessary when describing demand for local food in this region because more locally-grown produce is currently consumed locally than any other type of food. Produce also has less infrastructural requirements and therefore local produce sales hold better potential for increases in the short term than other farm products.

•Current spending of locally-grown produce: $13.9 million.
•Current spending of all categories of food: $14.5 million. This estimate is likely low due to the difficulty of distinguishing local sales of locally produced milk.
•Desired spending of locally-grown produce: $36.5 million.
•Desired spending of all categories of food: $451.9 million.

•Maximum spending of locally-grown produce: $49.9 million.
•Maximum spending of all categories of food: $654.2 million.

The greatest immediate opportunities in terms of market size lie in the retail grocery market. Nearly 60 percent of the $2.2 billion worth of food consumed by the region’s residents is purchased in retail food stores for home consumption, and retailers in the region are increasingly seeking ways to expand their local offerings. Restaurants also represent a promising market for locally-grown food with freshness and quality driving high demand for local ingredients. Beyond food stores and restaurants, the study finds high interest in local food by institutions that serve and sell food to the region’s consumers, and summer camps.

Despite strong, measured demand for local food and farm products only a fraction of all food that is consumed locally is currently produced locally, probably less than one percent. This fact is true even for foods that can and are being produced by the region’s farms. On the surface this represents an opportunity for local growers to expand production. More accurately, the disparity between demand for and supply of locally-grown food is complicated by the processes involved in moving food from farm to market, processing needs, and state, federal, and local policies that do not support local farms. Expanding local consumption of local farm products will require restaurants, food stores, and other businesses and institutions that serve or sell food to modify food procurement and distribution systems.

To some extent, food retailers in the region are currently altering their practices to accommodate more local food. Additionally, regionally-based systems of distribution—wholesale distributors, packers, farmer cooperatives, systems of backhauling—exist in the region that have the potential to help local farmers gain access to larger-scale markets. The region also has significant pieces of processing infrastructure including facilities for large-scale milk processing and distribution. With increasing demand for local food, these systems and pieces of infrastructure are potential points of intervention that, with further development, could create space for local farmers in a tightly integrated market.

Farmer Adoption

In response to the findings from this report ASAP introduced the Appalachian Grown™ program in 2006 for certifying farms and farm products grown or raised in Southern Appalachian counties on family farms. In 2007 the program had 129 farms and 79 food retailers and other food handlers certified.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

As is always the case with a research project of this magnitude, there are areas where additional research is needed. The research needed to advance the local food system includes examining efforts by groups in other regions to expand their local food systems. There is a lot to learn from those groups about food purchasing preferences and priorities for different types of buyers. There are examples of effective educational messages and models of success for incorporating local food into hospitals or schools, for example.

There are also some research tasks uncovered from this study which are particular to this region. For example, the report suggests it could be useful to more fully explore the potential of local markets for nursery crops; to examine the role of processing in expanding the local food system; to clarify the extent to which development pressures threaten the region’s farmland; and to explore the full effects of the tobacco buyout on regional farmers. University-based research investigating additional options for season extension in the region might also be useful.

Finally, research evaluating the effectiveness of local food system interventions is needed. Documenting the success of programs and activities can significantly influence future funding streams and help determine the most appropriate use of resources.

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.