Growing Local – Phase I

2011 Annual Report for LS11-239

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $296,645.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Charlie Jackson
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

Growing Local – Phase I

Summary

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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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 in depth analysis of the 2002 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.

Accomplishments/Milestones

While the project official start date was August 1, 2011, with contract negotiations project activities did not begin until the 4th quarter of 2011.

To date, project partners have met on three occasions to review project goals and objectives, plan, and discuss the overall methodology for the project. Methodology development has focused on the development of a theoretical framework to inform the SARE project and ASAP’s long term research program and the development of a set of indicators to track the impacts of food system localization efforts (described in more detail in the next section). Both the framework and indicators are in progress.

Developed a project logic model for management and evaluation. The logic model is attached to this report.

Conducted a review of literature to assist in the development of the theoretical framework and project indicators and define the scope and breadth of research that has been conducted and the range of claims being made.
• Review of food systems literature from academia: The review is focused on defining the scope of the research, the assertions made by academia, and indicators being used by others to measure change in food systems.
• Review of literature coming from community based organizations and initiatives specifically local food and farm assessments: The review is focused on understanding the methodologies of these assessments and defining the scope of the claims made.
• Review of literature around the idea of “resilience”: The review has focused on identifying definitions, qualities and characteristics, and applications of the concept to community development and sustainability.

Started the analysis of the 2002 and 2007 Agricultural Census data. Analyses are focused changes to the region’s agriculture leading up to and after the 2004 Tobacco Buyout. Analyses are ongoing.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The development of (a preliminary and still in development) theoretical framework to guide the SARE research and ASAP’s ongoing research program. Project investigators are exploring the use of the idea of “community resilience” to theorize how the development of local food systems (ie., embedding food production and consumption in place) promote economic, environmental, and social change. Resilience is a concept that has been used in disaster and ecosystems research across a variety of disciplines including anthropology, sociology, economics, and biology. It is also a concept used within psychology to investigate the well-being of individuals. More recently, resilience is being applied to community development and with this application, research has broadened beyond a focus on risks, problems, and negative consequences to a focus on strengths and competencies. Our research is identifying the qualities and characteristics of resilient communities; these qualities and characteristics cluster around the triple bottom line of sustainability (the economic, the environmental, the social). The framework asks what are the qualities of resilient communities? How does the development of local food economies reproduce and further develop these qualities?

Preliminary analysis of the 2002 and 2007 census data shows that as tobacco production declined in the wake of the 2004 Tobacco Buyout, fruit and vegetable production increased.

The review of community-based food and farm assessments shows that organizations and entities focused on developing local, regional, or state local food economies are making unsubstantiated claims around the potential economic impact of localizing food systems. Based on this finding, project investigators are examining the “food dollar” closely to assess what components of the food dollar are local regardless of food source and develop a method for calculating realistic economic impact potentials.

Collaborators:

Leah Mathews

lmathews@unca.edu
Project Investigator
University of North Carolina – Asheville
CPO 2110
One University Heights
Asheville, NC 28804
Office Phone: 8282516551
Alice Ammerman

alice_ammerman@unc.edu
Project Investigator
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
Office Phone: 9199666082
Allison Perrett

allison@asapconnections.org
Project Investigator
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
306 West Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Office Phone: 8282361282
Katie Descieux

katie@asapconnections.org
Research Assistant
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
306 West Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Office Phone: 8282361282