This year on Growing Local, we’ve shared dozens of stories about farmers, chefs, kids, and community members who support the local food movement.
Today we’ll share some ways you can support local food, and take you behind the scenes at ASAP to meet two staff members who work every day to strengthen the local food system: Charlie Jackson, director of ASAP and one of the founders of the organization, and Scott Bunn, development director for ASAP.
Charlie and Scott are part of the team here at ASAP, a nonprofit organization that got it’s start in the mid-1990s. “We were looking at changes that were happening in agriculture in the Southern Appalachian Region and Western North Carolina, and we wanted to make sure we kept that culture of farming and preserved the beauty of the farm landscape in our region,” Charlie says.
In the year 2000, ASAP started a Local Food Campaign to help foster connections between farmers and community members. “At the time it was kind of a new idea,” Charlie says. “It seems like local food is everywhere now, but 15 years ago it was kind of a new concept and we were fortunate to have a really great and responsive community and farmers that were ready to try something new. They wanted to continue farming, so given the opportunity, they stepped up and they did incredible things.”
The Local Food Campaign continues today. Each spring, ASAP publishes the the Local Food Guide, a directory of small family farms and producers, restaurants that serve local food, regional farmers markets, and local farms that welcome visitors. Since the guide was first published in 2002, ASAP has printed and distributed over a million copies.
ASAP also organizes a yearly Farm Tour. Small farms in Western North Carolina open their gates to the public, inviting the community to learn first-hand where their food comes from. Scott helps spread the word about the tour, and attends with family and friends each year.
“For me, Farm Tour is ASAP’s mission in action because we have over 2,000 people who go out across the region and are meeting farmers at their actual farm and getting to see the food that they’re eating: seeing it raised, seeing it grown, and really having that personal experience on the farm, which is just so effective and fun,” Scott says.
ASAP takes its mission to schools with the Growing Minds program. Pre-schoolers taste test fruits and vegetables to expand their palates and foster healthy eating habits. Elementary schoolers learn math and science through gardening, and university students learn how to implement these programs in their future classrooms.
“We realized how important it was for families to be involved in the food system and particularly to get to the kids,” Charlie says. “Kids are the ones who are suffering the most from poor diets and from preventable diseases like obesity and diabetes, so to get those kids eating local at that early age is really going to change their lives.”
ASAP also has its own Local Food Research Center that tracks the growth of local food in the region. Researchers conduct surveys of farmers and consumers to document changes in the food system: the ways that farmers, the environment, and the community work together around local food.
“We wanted to be efficient at helping to change the food system, so we do that through research,” Charlie says. “We do that through studying what’s going on in the food system and evaluating the impacts of our efforts so that we know that when we are in the community, out there with farmers, farmers markets, and in the schools, that we’re being as effective as we possibly can.”
These projects are supported by people who live and work in the Southern Appalachians. Small actions like shopping at farmers markets and seeking out local food at restaurants make a big difference, and so does supporting ASAP financially.
“Giving to ASAP gives us the flexibility that if we see that there’s an opportunity to work with a group of farms or an aspect of the local food community, we can act on that, whether it’s working with a group of different farmers or if there’s changes in tax legislation that will affect farmers markets. Farmers and community members look to ASAP for direction for lots of things and we need to be able to be responsive and out in front of what’s happening with local food. ASAP can’t do it without the community,” Scott says.
Charlie adds, “I think ASAP is a facilitator and a catalyst in the community. We’re the organization that can bring together all these different parts of the food system. It’s creating local economies and creating a community of food to take ourselves to a new place and a better world.”
As the year comes to a close, we hope you’ll consider supporting ASAP with a tax-deductible donation. We offer ways to contribute all year through automatic monthly payments, and are grateful for any gift you can give to support the local food movement.
“ASAP wants to thank all of the donors, all the volunteers, our board, as well as the farmers, the teachers, the farmers market shoppers, everyone who’s involved in making ASAP successful,” Scott says. “There’s no way that we could have the food scene that we have today without all of those people and we’re so excited to be working on behalf and with everyone in our local food community.”
Donate today and all year long at www.asapconnections.org