ASHEVILLE, NC (May 2, 2014) – Local food sales in Western North Carolina have grown significantly in the last five years. The 2012 Census of Agriculture, released on May 2, shows that direct sales alone have increased by nearly 70% in the region according to analysis by ASAP’s Local Food Research Center, from under $5 million in 2007 to over $8 million in 2012. The 2012 Census of Agriculture also shows that the region has reversed a disturbing trend in loss of farm acres, actually adding over 10,000 acres between 2007 and 2012 while the rest of North Carolina and the country lost farmland.
For over a decade ASAP has worked to build demand for food grown by local farms through their many programs and products, such as the Local Food Guide, Appalachian GrownTM certification and branding, and an annual Farm Tour. ASAP started in the mid 1990s in anticipation of the end of the federal tobacco program and with a goal of maintaining farming in the Appalachian mountain counties of North Carolina’s western-most region. ASAP’s approach to keeping farms was local food – connect farmers to their communities through food.
The 2012 census is a clear demonstration that this approach has worked. It has been five years since the United States Department of Agriculture released the 2007 Census of Agriculture. In that time period the local farm and food scene in Western North Carolina has undergone a visible and dramatic transformation. “The 2012 Census of Agriculture verifies what we see every day in Western North Carolina – the local food movement is growing,” said Charlie Jackson, ASAP’s Executive Director. “We just never imagined it would be this dramatic.” While continuing to shed tobacco farms, declining from over 4,000 in 1995 to fewer than 100 in the most recent census, the region has seen a significant increase in the number of acres in farms and in direct sales. The number of farmers growing fruits and vegetables is also increasing as farmers shift from tobacco or raising cows for distant feedlots to growing food for local consumption.
The success in Western North Carolina is particularly impressive when compared to the rest of North Carolina and the country as a whole. While as a state North Carolina saw a slight increase in direct sales, it is entirely due to the increase in direct sales in Western North Carolina. “If you remove the 23 westernmost Appalachian counties, North Carolina had a net decrease in direct sales,” said Jackson. Direct farm sales are an important measure of consumer demand for locally grown food. According to Jackson “per capita, Western North Carolina consumers buy nearly three times as much directly from farmers than do the rest of North Carolinians.”
ASAP’s Local Food Research Center’s own data mirrors the trends shown in the 2012 Census of Agriculture data – local food sales are growing and more and more people are seeking out food from local farms. The Center’s data shows that local farms and locally grown food are defining features of life for the people who live in Western North Carolina. In every category of local food sales there have been large increase. “Not only have are we seeing these large increases in direct sales, we are seeing more and more restaurants, grocery stores, and even universities, hospitals, and public schools embrace local food” said Jackson. According to ASAP, consumers spent over $170 million on local farm products in 2013, a 42 percent increase from the previous year.
“Local food is more than just a trend, it is now a movement” said Jackson. “This Census data and our research are proving that local food is an effective and successful approach to keeping farms and engaging people in where their food comes from.”
To find out more about ASAP’s Local Food Research Center, or to read up on their research visit: www.asapconnections.org/local-food-research-center/. To find locally grown food visit www.AppalachianGrown.org or pick up a Local Food Guide.
ABOUT ASAP (APPALACHIAN SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE PROJECT)
ASAP’s mission is to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food. ASAP’s Local Food Research Center works to assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of localizing food systems. To learn more about ASAP’s work and the center, visit asapconnections.org, or call (828) 236-1282.