Emerging Local Food Systems – The Role of Locally Developed Innovation in Small-scale Sustainable Farming in Northeast Georgia

2010 Annual Report for GS09-080

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2009: $8,492.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Carl Jordan
University of Georgia

Emerging Local Food Systems – The Role of Locally Developed Innovation in Small-scale Sustainable Farming in Northeast Georgia


Assessment of 22 farms and 6 farmer cooperatives in the Northeast Georgia region has identified over 60 individual practices defined as innovations (innovative solutions to farm and food system problems). Innovations identified tend to address individual farm level production challenges but increasingly bleed over to larger food system challenges which require “network innovations” to address. Network innovations such as market development, distribution collaboratives, purchasing co-operatives, food processing and labor assistance are developing at a rapid pace, and engage parties beyond food producers. Both production and network innovations are highly influenced by exposure to outside ideas, though network innovations are more dependent upon access to nearby working models.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objective 1 - Assess the types of innovations that local food system farmers and other participants are developing or adapting

Objective 2 - Identify needs that lead to locally adapted innovation

Objective 3 – Outline the process of innovation development

Objective 4 - Assess the performance, benefits and replicability of innovations

Objective 5 - Define the context that shapes innovation


Participant observation and/or interviews with 22 farms and 6 farmer cooperatives in the Northeast Georgia region of Habersham / Rabun and adjacent counties has identified over 60 individual practices defined as innovations. These innovations have been categorized according to types of problems that they address and fall into four general categories:

Production Innovations
Planning / Lifestyle Innovations
Network Innovations
Processing Innovations

These four general categories are a contraction of 20 total innovation types. All innovations identified to date have fallen into one or more of the categories below:

Complete List of TYPES
1. Time Saving Innovation (production)
2. Cost Saving Innovation (production)
3. Body Saving Innovation –ex. transplanter, wheel hoe (production)
4. Better performance Innovation – general performance compared to another practice (production)
5. SOM (soil organic matter) management and soil amendment Innovation (production)
6. Irrigation Innovation – ex. gravity feed (no pumping costs), rainwater capture (production)
7. Season Extension Innovation (production)
8. Insect / Disease Control Innovation (production)
9. Weed / Control Innovation (production)
10. Assessment Innovation (planning / lifestyle)
11. Planning Innovation (planning / lifestyle)
12. Outside Income Innovation (planning / lifestyle)
13. Quality of Life / Lifestyle Innovation (planning / lifestyle)
14. Networking Innovation (network)
15. Farmer training Innovation (network)
16. Alternate Information Innovation (network)
17. Food Types and Uses Innovation (network)
18. Marketing Innovation (network)
19. Food Processing Innovation – ex. certified kitchen (processing)
20. Food Safety Innovation –ex. water filtration for e.coli bacteria (processing)

Remaining tasks for this study include closing interviews with all farms for their response to how innovations on their own farms have been assessed, and response to those innovations and innovations types that are most important to their farm success. Networking innovations which increase local food system collaboration, communication, marketing potential and shared capital resources are expected to play a central role in the types of innovations in highest demand. Specific attention will be paid to the value of co-ops, supporting non-profits, new and emerging markets, value added capacity, and other means to expand marketing and consumption of local food at the local level.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This study supports the view that sustainable agriculture farmers apply extensive problem solving and creative capacities towards production, marketing and other farm related challenges using a combination of adopted, adapted and original innovations. Production innovations applied at the individual farm/producer level are highly influenced by producers’ backgrounds, skills, and less often by participation in localized knowledge exchange networks. Such networks for sustainable agriculture producers are still rare in a rural environment. However, a wider range of local food system “problems” are being addressed through increasing investments in “network innovations,” defined as food system challenges addressed through social collaborations.

Included under this list of network innovations are:

• Market creation / development / expansion
• Standards for markets – defining markets as a way to draw particular customers and producers.
• Distribution collaboratives – Linking multiple communities increasing regional demand and distribution.
• Local Food Processing capacity – increasing access to processing and value added facilities
• Purchasing / Marketing / Cropping cooperatives – farm supplies, feed, co-marketing with food processors, co-marketing with producers with similar crops.
• Labor assistance / trade – increasing inexpensive labor support through farm education, civic engagement and work trade.
• Capital Assistance Grants –federal grants assisting with irrigation / season extension.