Growing Local - Phase I

2012 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


In 2000, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) began a systems 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 further measure and analyze 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 knowledge 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, having 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.


For the project reporting period – January 2012 through February 2013 (with Year 1 project extension to February 28), project personnel have:

Developed and revised interview instruments and analyzed the scholarly literature in relation to the development of the project’s theoretical framework and indicators of food system change.

Created a database of Agricultural Census data for easier analysis.

Continued the analysis of 2002 and 2007 Census data.

Conducted a preliminary survey of the region’s farms to guide the development of farmer inclusion characteristics and the final farmer interview instrument.

Revised farmer, buyer, and decision maker instruments; instruments were submitted and approved by the UGA IRB.

Developed farmer, buyer, and decision maker participation criteria and outreach lists.

Conducted outreach to farmers and buyers to participate in the SARE research.

Conducted farmer and buyer interviews.

Conducted literature reviews around the concept of “Civic Agriculture,” the four community “capitals” (social, human, produced, and natural), Polanyi’s embedded economies, the “food dollar,” and local food hubs.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Project theoretical framework: ASAP and partners have continued to develop a theoretical framework to guide SARE research and ASAP’s ongoing research program. Since the last reporting period, our thinking on theoretical explanatory frameworks have expanded to include the notions of Civic Agriculture, embedded economies, and the four community “capitals.” Civic Agriculture, most closely associated with the work of Sociologist Thomas Lyson, provides a broad conceptual framework for theorizing the attributes of an agriculture embedded in the conditions and relationships of place. Within the Civic Agriculture framework, the four community capitals (social, human, natural, and produced) become relevant for thinking about how embedded systems of agriculture have the capacity to lead to more sustainable – economically, environmentally, socially – systems of food production. In this sense Civic Agriculture is the path toward the development of resilient communities. Project staff have used this evolving framework to inform the development of research instruments and indicators of food system change. At the same project staff are using grounded theory – letting the results of the research with farmers, buyers, and decisions makers inform the details of this framework and guide the development of meaningful indicators.

The economic impacts of localizing food systems: To more closely examine the economics of localizing food systems, reviews of literature have focused on the food dollar and on food hubs. With the increasing popularity of the food hub model as a strategy for connecting small farms to larger mainstream market outlets, project staff conducted a review of studies on the financial viability and sustainability of hubs operating as non-profits. For the limited data that exist on food hubs, findings suggest that the non-profit local food hub model may not be the most viable means of mainstreaming locally grown food. A report summarizing the data is attached to this annual report.

Indicated in the previous report, project staff are also using the USDA’s ERS ‘food dollar series’ to deepen our understanding of how the process of localizing food systems impacts local/regional economies. Among the many benefits to localizing food systems, one of the most cited is the economic opportunity of shifting a local community’s food spending from imported food to local food. Across the country, regional development boards and local food system advocacy groups claim that most of the food consumed by their constituents is produced outside of their communities, representing millions of dollars flowing out of the local economy. This assumption theorizes that by redirecting consumer purchasing to favor local sources billions of additional dollars will be available to local economies every year. However, our analysis of the way food dollars flow through local communities indicates that most groups’ estimates vastly miscalculate potential economic impacts because they overlook the most fundamental principles of the food dollar.

In 2011 the USDA Economic Research Service published its “Revised and Expanded Food Dollar Series.” The report shows that for every dollar a consumer spends on food, approximately 15.5 cents is received by the farmer. The remaining 84.5 cents comprises the value added component of food production including processing, packaging, transportation, retail trade, food service, energy, finance and insurance, and advertising. For every dollar a person spends on food, around half goes towards the salary and benefits of employees along that value chain, a third goes towards property income, and another eighth goes to state taxes. Therefore, shifting a community’s food purchasing from imports to local foods does not shift the entire food dollar from leakage to retention; the 50 percent that pays employee salaries and benefits, for example, is already in the local economy. Depending on the location of marketing, processing, and retail firms, as little as 15.5 cents of that food dollar might be added to a local economy by sourcing a product locally. In light of these preliminary findings, project activities focused on examining the economic impacts of localizing food systems will continue to investigate the role the food dollar plays in local economic output. The food dollar PowerPoint attached to this report was developed to explain the complexity of the food dollar and its relevance for thinking about economic impacts to ASAP staff.


Leah Mathews
Project Investigator
University of North Carolina - Asheville
CPO 2110
One University Heights
Asheville, NC 28804
Office Phone: 8282516551
Alice Ammerman
Project Investigator
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
Office Phone: 9199666082
Allison Perrett
Project Investigator
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
306 West Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Office Phone: 8282361282
Katie Descieux
Research Assistant
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
306 West Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Office Phone: 8282361282