Appalachian Grown: Toward Regional Community-based Food Systems
The goal of “Appalachian Grown: Toward Regional Community-Based Food Systems” is to facilitate continued research and development of an effective “buy local food” campaign as a strategic component in establishing community-based food systems throughout Southern Appalachia. The multi-year project has focused on the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s (ASAP) ongoing Local Food Campaign. The project will facilitate an understanding of the existing regional food system and will establish assessment and implementation “buy local food campaign” methodologies for sustainable community-based food systems.
The project goal is to facilitate continued research and development of an effective “buy local food” campaign as a strategic component in establishing community-based food systems throughout Southern Appalachia. The “Appalachian Grown: Toward Regional Community-Based Food Systems” will be completed by the end of June 2007.
1. Assess the existing project area food system and identify barriers and opportunities regarding community-based food systems.
2. Assess local market/consumer preferences in context of ASAP’s “buy local food” campaign.
3. Evaluate impacts of ASAP’s “Buy Appalachian Local Food Campaign”.
4. Inventory existing and emerging “buy local food” campaigns in Southern Appalachia.
1. Production capacity assessment and methodology results will be compiled, summarized and distributed to project partners.
2. Market and consumer assessment results will be compiled and disseminated to project partners and will inform the development of the ASAP “Buy Appalachian Local Food Campaign”. Results will also be disseminated to target grocery and restaurant operations to assist in their response to market dynamics and trends.
3. “Buy Appalachian Local Food Campaign” evaluation results will measure impact and inform campaign development and adjustments.
4. Results from the Southern Appalachian campaign inventory will establish a benchmark status of buy local campaigns in the region and will establish a network of engaged individuals and communities. This network will form the core of a “learning organization” focused on buy local campaigns. Results will be disseminated to project partners and the FoodRoutes Network buy local initiative.
Project results will be disseminated through the following avenues: the project website (www.BuyAppalachian.org and www.asapconnections.org), the ASAP Marketing Working Group; two regional marketing roundtables; the NC Dept. of Agriculture; state and regional sustainable agriculture organizations and meetings; the Cooperative Extension Service network; the Southern SAWG network and annual conference; the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference; Carolina Organic Growers, Inc.; the farmer’s markets in the project area and related WNC commodity associations. In addition, results will be disseminated through publications and the website of FoodRoutes Network and findings will submitted to local newspapers, journals, and agricultural periodicals.
Building on previous years’ work – which included mainly targeted surveys of growers and consumers – the focus of the project in 2006 was on exploring current and potential local food purchasing by larger scale buyers. Surveys of 5 different groups of organizations were completed:
• Phone interviews with 15 of 17 (88%) Foodservice Directors in colleges and universities in the region;
• Online surveys completed by 23 of 49 (47%) summer camps in the region;
• Written questionnaires completed by 19 of 24 (79%) Child Nutrition Directors representing public school districts in the region;
• Phone interviews with 15 of 27 (56%) hospital Foodservice Directors in the region; and
• Written questionnaires completed by 40 of 102 (39%) retail food stores, restaurants and other organizations recognized as highly motivated buyers of local food.
Each survey included questions designed to assess current and potential spending on local food, issues involved in food procurement and distribution, and perceived barriers and motivators regarding local purchasing. Additional research was conducted on grocery stores and restaurants as potential market channels for local food in the region.
In addition to market surveys, interviews of North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents and other professionals and agencies working to advance local food systems throughout Southern Appalachia were completed. The focus of the interviews was on identifying existing or emerging “buy local campaigns” in the region and on identifying strengths and barriers related to advancing the development of regionally based food systems. Tourism professionals were also interviewed in recognition of the significant potential overlap between agriculture and tourism in the region.
To supplement the survey data, regional data from the USDA Census of Agriculture and similar sources was collected. The result was an assessment of the region’s food and farm economy including both production and consumption estimates for most of the major types of food produced in the region. A substantial part of this assessment included an exploration of food procurement and distribution systems for each type of food, with an emphasis on identifying points of intervention that could allow for expanded local food purchasing by interested buyers.
Results from each individual survey were disseminated back to the participating group. Other dissemination included posting individual research reports from the surveys on ASAP’s website (www.asapconnections.org), which received over 75,000 visits in 2006. Major findings from the individual research reports are being compiled into a large, comprehensive report identifying the potential for expanding local markets for local farm products in the region. Highlights from the full report will be disseminated widely to local media, policymakers, economic development organizations, agricultural support agencies, and other relevant groups in the region.
Results from the surveys and data analysis have also shaped the development of ASAP’s 2006-2007 Local Food Guide and influenced the direction of the Local Food Campaign. The Local Food Guide continues to be a comprehensive guide to farms and farm products, tailgate markets and community supported agriculture enterprises, grocers, restaurants, distributors, bed & breakfasts and organizations supportive of the Local Food Campaign.
The newest development in the Local Food Campaign is the introduction of an Appalachian GrownTM logo for certifying food and agricultural products grown or raised by locally-owned and operated farms in the region. Since the logo was introduced in May 2006, nearly 100 farms have been certified. The development of the logo resulted directly from research results emphasizing the importance of labeling in local food systems, particularly in higher volume markets.
A third annual regional marketing roundtable and conference was held in February of 2007 at Warren Wilson College. The Conference included workshops on higher volume markets, tailgate markets, growing and marketing items such as small fruits, medicinal herbs and eggs, and other topics relevant to farmers. The conference drew participants from throughout the southeast region. A comprehensive Resource Notebook was compiled and provided to conference attendees.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
It is expected that the Appalachian Grown project 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. The project will facilitate cooperation and networking among organizations throughout the region working to build and strengthen community-based food systems.
Furthermore, project outcomes will describe economic impacts of the existing food system and the potential positive economic and other benefits of “buy local food campaigns” and community-based food systems.
The final report will be published as a visioning document for the region, to define how the local food system can be rebuilt to meet demand from individuals and institutional foodservice departments. This vision will be designed to facilitate policymakers and regional planners’ efforts to promote and strengthen community-based food systems within the region.
Strong, sustainable local food systems have positive impacts on:
• the environment, by reducing or eliminating harmful chemicals in the production process and reducing vehicular miles of transport;
• the local economy, by reducing the outflow of dollars and increasing the multiplier effect;
• human and social health, by reducing harmful substances and providing nutritious food choices, and by connecting farmers to consumers and rural communities to cities.