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Program Post: Data in Motion

1940 NC Tobacco Festival

Each Thursday, ASAP’s programs take you behind the scenes of their work. This week, our Local Food Research Center shares how they bring their data to life—literally! Plus, they talk about how WNC’s agricultural landscape has changed over the last 40+ years.

From ASAP’s Local Food Research Center
Post note: ASAP began in response to the tobacco buyout. At the research center, we’re inspired by the stories of former tobacco growers who have moved to local food production, and we look to Census data to better understand the buyout’s impact on our region’s farming legacy.

Tobacco Decline

This motion map shows the gradual consolidation of the food system in WNC as farm numbers fall from 1969 to 2007 (y-axis) and agricultural product sales increase (x-axis). Learn the story behind this trend below!

Farming has been a staple of life in the mountains of Western North Carolina since the first settlers arrived in the 18th century. From its beginnings of mixed crops and livestock, farming as a local economic driver took off in the 1920s with the widespread planting of tobacco, which grew well in mountain soils and was easily stored for transport to distant markets.

As consolidation and globalization of the food system intensified with World War II and proceeded through the 1970s and 80s, mountain farmers were increasingly left out of widening distribution chains. The result was a steady decline in the number of farms in the area. In WNC, the number of farms dropped from 55,973 in 1950 to 11,553 in 2007 (a 79 percent decrease). The topography of the mountains makes it difficult for most family farms to expand in size. While some WNC farms have been able to compete in larger scale national and global markets—WNC is a top producer of Christmas Trees and apples—the majority of the region’s farms have not been able to successfully compete in global markets.

For the most part, the story of farming in the WNC mountains has followed the national trend: farms not able to “get big” were forced to “get out.” Thankfully, the emergence of our local food scene is addressing and reversing this half-century long trend of farm loss. Local direct markets like farmers markets, roadside stands, and CSA programs give small family farms viable economic opportunities at an achievable scale. By purchasing local food, YOU have the power to help your farm neighbor keep land in production and continue our region’s farming legacy.

 

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