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Program Post: Southern Appalachia’s Success (Local Food-Wise, Of Course!)

Local Food Bumper Sticker

Each Thursday, ASAP’s programs take you behind the scenes of their work. This week, a member of our research team wonders, “Why is local food working in Asheville and the Southern Appalachians but not necessarily in other places?”

From ASAP’s Local Food Research Center

My name is Katie, and I’m one of the researchers at ASAP’s Local Food Research Center (LFRC). As a native of Asheville, I have seen my home change tremendously over my lifetime. One of the biggest changes? The growth of WNC’s local food community and the way our region has leaped ahead of much of the country in this regard. Before I came to work at ASAP, I didn’t fully understand why my home could make local work when other areas seemed to struggle. The answer, like so many others in life, is “complicated.”

A local food system requires 1) a conducive agricultural environment: farms that are able and willing to supply local food to local consumers and markets and 2) sufficient market capacity: people ready to buy the food and the infrastructure to bring local products to them.

Much of our work at the LFRC involves trying to understand the forces that drive these variables and to use that understanding to shore up the capacity of our local food system here in the Southern Appalachians. At its core, that shoring up requires a two-pronged approach: build demand and provide training and support to farms and food businesses to expand market capacity.

ASAP builds demand through marketing and promotion through events like our upcoming Farm Tour, promotions and advertisements like our Get Local initiative and Local Food bumper sticker, and by putting a positive spotlight on local farms and local food with our Local Food Guide and farmer profiles (see them in your neighborhood grocery?!). Building market capacity for local food is a bit trickier. There is a jungle of regulations, fees, logistics, contracts, and certifications that govern the operation of food production, transport, and sale, and farmers and food businesses often need help to identify and overcome the barriers they face when trying to tap into local markets. Through investigative research on the ground, the LFRC helps ASAP’s overall effort to build our region’s local food system; we uncover the gaps and obstacles preventing localization and research the best way to overcome them.

Localizing the food system is a BIG job that requires community input. TELL US: How do you like to contribute to the localization of our food system?

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