Community Development through a Regional Food System Plan

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, focus group, networking, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, feasibility study, market study, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, community services, employment opportunities, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures, community development


    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.


    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.

    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

    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.