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[Guest Program Post] The Next Generation of Local Food Systems Researchers

Hannah at Market

Each Thursday, ASAP’s programs take you behind the scenes of their work. This week, our Local Food Research Center hands over their Program Post reins to a young researcher from UNC Asheville, Hannah James. Hannah has been helping them find out what shoppers think about local food and local food branding. 

The Next Generation of Local Food Systems Researchers
Guest blog post from Hannah James, UNC Asheville student

Since January 2012, the UNC Asheville Economics Department and ASAP have been working together to research and develop strategies to increase the visibility of ASAP’s Appalachian Grown local food branding program in the marketplace. This summer, a team of student research assistants (myself included; I’m pictured here on the right!) conducted consumer surveys at two independent grocery stores in Western North Carolina—JB’s Galaxy in Marion and Harold’s Supermarket in Sylva—to find out what shoppers think about local food and local food branding.

My personal involvement with the project began only a few months ago, around the time that I finished my freshman year at UNC Asheville and declared myself a Sociology major. I applied to be a student research assistant after completing a research paper on pre-industrial agricultural practices in rural Appalachia. In my research, I learned about the transformations farming in our region has undergone, from subsistence farming to slash and burn to an export-based market. I experienced a timeline that took Appalachian farming from local and personal connections to the land and food to a system of agriculture operating on a global scale. The poignancy of working to re-brand Appalachian Grown food to local communities was inherently clear to me and drew me to this project with ASAP.

Harold's Supermarket Local Food ShopperDespite the presence of powerhouse grocers like Walmart and the increasing globalization of our food, Western North Carolina communities remain strong. This is most apparent in the passionate loyalty we research assistants have observed from so many customers of these locally owned grocery stores. At both locations, when we asked a customer how long they had been patronizing the store, the most frequent response was: “Since the day it opened!” Unfortunately, this enthusiastic loyalty to local grocery stores is not always mirrored in loyalty to the farmer down the street.

These mountains have deep-set roots in sustainable living, a historically strong regional food economy, and a collective consciousness in favor of community. With this in mind, I’m very proud of the work I do for ASAP and UNC Asheville, and each step we take toward returning to a way of life that directly benefits all our friends and neighbors in Western North Carolina.

Stay tuned to a future research center Program Post for more details about their exciting work at JB’s Galaxy in Marion and Harold’s Supermarket in Sylva…

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