This report presents the findings of an analysis of Census of Agriculture data to assess changes that occurred to food and farms in Western North Carolina (WNC) in relation to the “tobacco buyout” and to an effort to build a more localized food and farming economy. In WNC, the mid-1990s marked the beginning of a significant period of transition in agriculture. After more than 70 years as the dominant cash crop for farmers, production of burley tobacco was entering a period of sharp decline. Anticipating the economic and cultural impacts the loss of tobacco would have on communities, a group of farmers and citizens launched a local food campaign in 2000 to provide farmers with alternatives.
In this report, WNC is a 20-county region in the Appalachian region of North Carolina that consistently grew burley tobacco under the federal quota and price support program. Nine of the 20 counties, which are the focus of the analysis, accounted for the majority of tobacco production prior to the buyout. The analysis, which used data from the 1997 to 2012 censuses, shows significant shifts in agriculture related to tobacco and food production for local markets. Though the region experienced a dramatic loss of farms with the end of tobacco, the census period just after the 2004 buyout shows the region’s farm loss leveled off with a rate far less than the state and US loss rates. The data suggest that as tobacco declined production for local markets increased with an increase in production of fruits and vegetables and in the value of direct sales.