- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures
In order to understand the current transformation of the food system, a research team from ASAP, UNC-Asheville, and UNC-Chapel Hill have been analyzing the economic, environmental, and social changes of the developing local food system in Western North Carolina and the Southern Appalachians. The methodology employed has built on existing research in the region and has included interviews with farmers, food industry buyers, and community decision-makers, a survey with consumers, analyses of USDA Census of Agriculture data, etc. To date, the project has developed a framework for theorizing how and why local food systems can be an engine of change, identified opportunities and barriers to local food from the perspectives of stakeholders operating in different places in the food system, identified the strategies “successful” farmers use to mitigate risk in local markets and improve farm viability, studied the implications of the food dollar for the economic impacts of localizing food systems, and studied the transition from tobacco to food production in the region.
The primary objective of this project has been to examine the impacts of food system localization on local economies, farm profitability, production practices, and health. Long term research questions ask: How are consumer values and behaviors impacting the characteristics of the local food system? How are changes in demand for local food affecting production practices, farm profitability, the distribution networks, and the health of local communities? What have been the impacts of the 2004 Tobacco Buyout in the region? What are the unintended consequences of localizing food production and consumption? Can consumer demand change the food system (increase sustainable production, change policy, decrease obesity and increase health, modify food distribution)?
For this phase of the project, research activities included:
- Developed a food system theory of change logic model, which outlines anticipated stages of change and their indicators.
- Developed a framework for theorizing how and why local food systems can be an engine of social change.
- Collated and assessed all existing data on the food and farming economy of the region and identified missing baseline data. ASAP has collected data annually since 2002 from local farms and businesses.
- Conducted an in depth analysis of the 2002 and 2007 Agricultural Census Data to assess the impact of the 2004 Tobacco Buyout on agriculture.
- Conducted interviews with 'panels' of farmers, buyers, and decision makers to baseline and measure changes over time.
- Conducted a consumer survey to measure consumer values and purchasing practices.
- Identified opportunities and barriers to local food from the perspectives of stakeholders operating in different places in the food system.
- Identified the strategies “successful” farmers use to mitigate risk in local markets and improve farm viability.
- Studied the food dollar to better understand the real potential economic impacts of localizing food systems.
- Studied the impacts and potential impacts of food hubs as a strategy toward local food system development.
- Conducted research at two farmers markets in the region to better understand the relationship between total market sales, credit card terminal transactions, and market attendance.
- Presented research findings at a national conference.
- Developed and submitted a journal manuscript (currently under peer review).