Sustainable agriculture in Virginia and North Carolina: a multi-state assessment of the economic, social and political context
A mixed-method social science research program was carried out in six case study sites in Virginia and North Carolina to determine criteria that support of inhibit community food system development. Criteria found to support food system development included,institutional support, social capital, entrepreneurial farmers, strong “food culture”, proximity to and convenience of accessing markets, place identity, presence of festivals and educational events. Challenges to food system development included, uneducated consumers and producers, a sense of loss, unmet infrastructure needs, financial challenges, regulatory worries, local “fraud”, un-supportive Cooperative Extension. Research results are being used to develop GIS resources and outreach materials.
Part 2 [6 months]:
Virginia and North Carolina case studies: Six case studies will be performed throughout the study region. This work task seeks to refine the understanding of “context” by relating experiences of focus group participants to the literature. Focus group findings are used to guide part three, a descriptive model of contextual suitability of the study area to support community food systems, and by association sustainable agriculture.
Part 3 [12 months]:
Sustainable Agriculture Context Analysis: This part of the project will begin concurrently with part two work but will require a longer time to complete. The objective of this work task is to perform a suitability analysis with a geographic information system. A suitability analysis will produce an understanding of the likelihood that community food systems are supported throughout the study region.
Part 4 [12 months]:
Outreach and training: The results of this project will be summarized and recommendations made for improving the contextual suitability of sustainable agriculture to thrive within community food systems. Training will be provided to Extension agent faculty to educate others regarding local contextual assessment and further adoption of sustainable agriculture.
In 2010, work was completed on six case studies of community food systems from a variety of regions within Virginia and North Carolina. Criteria for selection of case study sites included community food systems that were experiencing growth and development, evidence of local food production and distribution was observed, and each site had a measure of diversity to the mix of sites (e.g. rural,urban,distinctive character, geographic dispersion, and demographic). A survey and focus group was conducted in each study site.
A questionnaire was distributed by in-person at farmers markets, and electronically in each study site, polling a diversity of food system actors. The questionnaire asked about respondents perception of economic realities of local food, their connection to other local food actors, their sense of community and place, information networks, public policy effect on food system development, and demographic profile.Eight hundred fifty-six surveys were completed by respondents.
Following the survey, a focus group was held in each case study site. Focus group participants, selected by key informants and survey respondents, were asked a series of semi-structured questions, and completed facilitated activities. Questions and activities inquired about community objectives regarding food system development, and relationships between actors. A map of critical food system elements was also created.
Survey and focus group data was pooled and analyzed using mixed-method research analysis to define criteria that support and conversely inhibit food system development. Criteria found to support food system development included,institutional support, social capital, entrepreneurial farmers, strong “food culture”, proximity to and convenience of accessing markets, place identity, presence of festivals and educational events. Challenges to food system development included, uneducated consumers and producers, a sense of loss, unmet infrastructure needs, financial challenges, regulatory worries, local “fraud”, un-supportive Cooperative Extension.
The research team is now using the criteria developed in the social science research program to define a suitability model for food systems. The food system suitability model may provide an inkling of how difficult it may be to develop a sustainable food system in a given place, given its specific context. A geographic information system, known as the Community Food System Explorer (CFSE), is being used to develop and represent the suitability model.
The CFSE mapping system was developed in partnership with Virginia Tech’s GIS Enterprise Center. The web application provides the public a tool through which they can better understand the assets, challenges, and opportunities for their community’s food system. Additionally, a map editor was developed to provide community partners (through their Extension agent) the ability to update and add new information to the maps.
The social science outputs are also being used to develop outreach materials. At present, two Extension facts sheets are under development explaining the research findings and GIS capabilities. A training manual is also under production that will be used to educate Extension faculty on how to conduct a comprehensive food system assessment in their community.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Over the last year, the project team has been invited to present research findings at four conferences. Presentations included, the Agriculture Economics Department at the University of Wyoming, the 11th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference, the South Carolina Research, Agriculture, Industry and Nature conference, and the National Planning Conference (American Planning Association National Conference). These presentations provided consumers, potential advocates for sustainable agricultural systems, and producers with knowledge of what factors may be relevant in their pursuit of a sustainable community food system.
The CFSE is currently being used by a graduate level class at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture for a class project on food system planning. Three study areas were selected by students and customized web server access was established to facilitate food system analysis using ArcDesktop via web-server access. The CFSE was selected as a tool to be included in two recently funded grants, including: an AFRI grant ($2 million dollar award) in the topic area of Global Hunger, and the Virginia Farm to Table project. These contributions to provide students and other researchers continued access to a central repository of food system related information for activities that can directly affect the development of sustainable agricultural markets, like community food systems.
Graduate Research Associate
2300 Fox Hunt Ln. NW Apt. L
Blacksburg, VA 24060
Graduate Research Assisant
1249 Francis Ave
Halethorpe, MD 21227
Office Phone: 7037068138
Community & Economic Dev. Specialist
North Carolina A&T University
P O Box 21828
Greensboro, NC 27420-1928
Office Phone: 3363347915
North Carolina State University
Box 7605 NCSU Campus
Raleigh, NC 27695-7605
Office Phone: 9195159161
Extension Policy Specialist
North Carolina State University
Box 8109 North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-8109
Office Phone: 9195154683
Graduate Research Assistant
North Carolina State University
Box 8109 NCSU Campus
Raleigh, NC 27605
Office Phone: 9194554343