Identifying barriers to sustainable food production by low resource producers and purchase by low income consumers in Washington and Beaufort Counties, North Carolina

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2013: $7,614.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Duke University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Chantal Reid
Duke University, Dept of Biology


  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), melons
  • Vegetables: cabbages, cucurbits, onions, peppers


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, marketing management
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, community services, employment opportunities, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, public participation, social capital, social networks


    I investigated ways to connect low-resource producers and low-income consumers of fresh produce in 31 counties in NE North Carolina. My research partner and I conducted spatial, statistical, and qualitative analyses.  The spatial analysis, while not part of the SSARE grant, identified three food deserts –regions of limited access to adequate food- in SE Beaufort County, NE Beaufort County, and SW Washington County.  The survey and interview methodology identified major barriers to connecting producers and consumers as the decrease in the number of small farms, increasing bureaucracy, high cost of entry, and historical divisions between ethnic and socioeconomic groups.


    To better characterize barriers rural producers and consumers face to produce and access healthy food in Northeastern North Carolina, my research partner and I conducted three separate analyses. Using Geographic Information Systems, we developed a spatial analysis to understand geographic patterns of food deserts and access barriers.  I ran a two-model statistical analysis based on USDA Food Environment Atlas data to identify significant demographic and socioeconomic variables that affect food access.  I augmented the statistical data with qualitative surveys and interviews  to define barriers producers and consumers face on the intra-county scale. The qualitative and spatial analyses were focused on two low-income counties: Beaufort County and Washington County, NC.   Community stakeholders, local food producers, consumers, and grocery retailers were interviewed.   The statistical analysis focused both on 31 target North Carolina counties and on the entire Eastern Coastal Plain.  It revealed that persistent poverty counties and counties experiencing population loss were more likely to experience little or no access to grocery stores. Race was also a factor, particularly within North Carolina where minorities are more vulnerable to food insecurity.  Both Washington and Beaufort Counties exhibit a high level of economic and demographic stratification. Two-thirds of consumers from the survey had problems stretching their food budget, and identified a weekly food box at low or no-cost as the best intervention. Retail grocery stores already can and do buy local food. However, retailers buy locally according to the season and price. Major barriers to connecting low-resource producers and low-income consumers were identified as the decrease in the number of small farms, increasing bureaucracy, high cost of entry, and historical divisions between ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Using the geographic and socio-economic barriers, the spatial analysis identified three food deserts - in SE Beaufort County, NE Beaufort County, and SW Washington County and the main drivers for each.

    Project objectives:

    Given that some successful models have been developed in other areas and the lack of small scale data on market barriers to entry, my research objectives were:

    1) ASSESS economic and social factors that limit the transfer of sustainable food product between low income farmers and local consumers using a literature review and available datasets.

    2) ASSESS local economic and social factors via interviews with local producers, consumers, government officials, and food distribution and retail businesses in the study area. 

    3) COMPARE within county fine scale data to regional macroscale existing data.

     4) DEVELOP a set of recommendations for Resourceful Communities on investment sectors and pilot programs appropriate for the proposed project region to maximize healthy, local food choices for rural communities.

    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.