Article Explores How Local Food Programs Can Benefit Both Community and Business

An October 29 Sustainable Communities article explored how counties and municipalities are strengthening communities, resiliency, and food producers and suppliers by supporting local food networks.  The article discussed how local food systems can build local capital and respond to the increasing numbers of “locavores” – people who attempt “to eat food produced within a 100-mile radius.”

“You can bring some revitalization to your communities through local food systems,” [North Carolina State University professor and Center for Environmental Farming Systems Director Nancy] Creamer said. “And from a national perspective, as we face droughts and floods and climate issues, keeping our food supply diverse and spread out across the country is really important.”

The article also highlighted a variety of local food initiatives from North Carolina:

Eastern Carolina Organics, based in Durham, N.C., is a grower’s cooperative or “food hub,” which aggregates, distributes and markets farm products that are produced regionally or locally, so they can be purchased from wholesale or retail or institutional markets. Started in 2005 with a $48,000 Tobacco Trust Fund grant, it has grown to more than 70 growers, 130 customers, five staff and $2.7 million in sales from a 26,000-square-foot warehouse.

“Small-scale farms often don’t have the volume or continuity of products to be able to carry large-scale accounts, so they come together in food hubs,” [Community Food Strategies program lead Christi] Shi Day said.

The Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative is an example of community-supported agriculture, or CSA.

“People in the community buy a subscription at the beginning of the season and the farmer delivers a share of the harvest,” Shi Day said.

Incubated by Cooperative Extension in Moore County, N.C., Sandhills drew 3.5 percent of the local population to subscribe in its second year. Its community impact also has been impressive – 38,000 volunteer hours to deliver the food, which raised funds for a variety of local causes; more than three tons of produce donated to neighbors; 22,000 boxes delivered to more than 1,500 members; $320,000 to family farmers and artisans, and $40,000 contributed to community schools, churches and organizations for hosting a gathering site.

Core Sound Seafood on Harkers Island, N.C., is a community-supported fishery (CSF). The group buys from other fishermen in the community, assembles “shares” (four pounds of fish from two species per week over 10 weeks) and sends them to subscribers. Direct sales – as with farmers’ markets – results in more money to producers. In 2012, the prices averaged $450 per share ($225 per half share), or $11.25 per pound. The fish are caught, cleaned and filleted within 48 hours of delivery, and shareholders receive information about who caught the fish and how, photos and stories from the coast, and recipes.

Slow Money North Carolina provides peer-to-peer lending to finance small businesses. Loans are made at very modest rates of interest, typically 2-5 percent. As of December 2012, more than 60 loans were made to more than 30 Slow Money North Carolina food entrepreneurs and/or local food businesses around the state, totaling more than $600,000. Nationally, $35 million has been invested in more than 300 small food enterprises around the United States through 19 local Slow Money chapters and 10 investment clubs.