Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project Launches Local Food Center, Research Initiatives
January 9, 2012 | Andrew Burger
The sustainable agriculture credo – that locally grown food can be raised in environmentally beneficial ways that strengthen local farms and economies and improve individual and public health – will be put to the test at The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s (ASAP) Local Food Center.
ASAP’s Local Food Center will be built in Asheville, North Carolina with initial support from donors, the Southern branch of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Sustainable Research and Education (SARE) program and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Asheville’s Mountain Xpress reported recently.
The Local Food Center will enable ASAP to continue to expand its efforts to foster and promote local sustainable agriculture. Its research and development initiatives to date have shown the most beneficial and efficient ways to make the transition to an agricultural system centered on locally and sustainably produced food, according to ASAP executive director and founding farmer Charlie Jackson.
“We are in a process of radically transforming our food system to one where local food is available to everyone, farming is sustainable and profitable, and our communities are healthier because they are connected to the farms that grow their food,” Jackson told Mountain Xpress reporter Mackensy Lunsford.
Initial funding will be used to conduct collaborative research projects focused on local food system development that will be shared both locally and across the country. Working with non-profit organizations and universities, including University of North Carolina, Asheville and Clemson University, research projects will range from testing consumer messaging and communications to working with food system “gatekeepers” to open up new distribution channels for locally grown food.
The Growing Local Food Movement
Asheville and western North Carolina are fertile ground for the Local Food Center, the latest in ASAP’s efforts to promote sustainable agriculture across the region. More than $62 million in local food sales were rung up across the region in 2010, noted ASAP’s communications director Maggie Cramer. “The region is way ahead of the rest of the country in making this food system transformation…We truly have the conditions to study this theory, which hasn’t been researched in this manner before,” she added.
Local food sales are expected to reach $7 billion in 2011, according to a November USDA-Economic Research Service (ERS) report. Farmers’ marketing of locally produced food is most prominent in the Northeast and West Coast regions and areas close to urban centers, ERS researchers found in conducting their nationwide survey and analysis.
Associated with higher levels of direct-to-consumer sales of locally grown food were found to be associated with “climate and topography favoring fruit and vegetable production, proximity to and neighboring farm participation in farmers’ markets, and good transportation and information access,” according ERS’s report, which is entitled, “Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States.”