- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures
In 2000, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) began a research program to evaluate the impacts of food system localization on farm profitability and viability, production practices, distribution networks, and the health of local communities. With support from SSARE, this project will continue to measure these changes. 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 on farming in the region? What are the unintended consequences of localizing food production and consumption?
ASAP's work is grounded in the conviction that when the distance between consumer and producer decreases, food system transparency increases and drives changes to the way food is produced. In a local food system, consumers are close to the source of food production and have firsthand knowledge of agriculture, production practices, the impacts of agricultural production, marketing practices, etc. With this close connection, consumers are able to make informed decisions about what they purchase and eat and directly impact the qualities of their food system.
A research team from ASAP, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, and others will measure changes in consumer values and purchasing practices and the resulting changes in: farm numbers and total land in farms, farm profitability, and in production practices; market demand and marketing practices; changes in individual and public health; and policy. The methodology will build on existing research in the region and recruit farmers, consumers, buyers, and decision makers for interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Data will be collected from the same 'panels' of farmers, buyers, and decision makers each year of the project to baseline and track changes across key indicators.
The information gained from this study will be relevant to the local food system in Western Carolina and the Southern Appalachians as it continues to develop as well as to local food and farm initiatives that are just beginning or at an earlier stage of development across the country. ASAP's research approach links research and action in a feedback loop where research both informs the development of strategies to further food localization efforts and evaluates the impacts of those strategies. Over time this feedback loop deepens understanding of the food system, drives changes to the system, and identifies next intervention points.
This region is in a unique position to have in place both a mature and growing local food economy and years of data on the transition in agriculture and in food consumption. The quantity of data and relatively isolated market and agriculture environment make this the perfect place to study the change theory that underlies the rationale for localizing food systems. There is little long-term scientific research into the underlying assumptions that are the foundation of the emerging local food movement. The conditions and expertise in place can provide the knowledge needed to rationally move forward in the localizing of food systems.
Project objectives from proposal:
The objective of this project is to examine the impacts of food system localization on local economies, farm profitability, production practices, and health. 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)?
Project and research activities will:
Formalize the methodology of the research project.
Develop a project logic model to articulate project activities, outputs/deliverables, and outcomes and a timeline to detail key benchmarks and completion dates.
Collate and assess all existing data on the food and farming economy of the region and identify missing baseline data. ASAP has collected data annually since 2002 from local farms and businesses.
Conduct an indepth analysis of the 2000 and 2007 Agricultural Census Data to assess the impact of the 2004 Tobacco Buyout on agriculture.
Conduct interviews with 'panels' of farmers, buyers, and decision makers during each year of the project to baseline and measure changes over time.
Conduct consumer surveys/interviews to measure consumer values and purchasing practices.
Synthesize and develop a report of findings. Develop a plan for the dissemination of research results through journals and conferences.