Beginning in 2012, Land of Sky Regional Council, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), and UNC Asheville's NEMAC began working on a collaborative project to better understand what communities need to foster successful and sustainable local food system growth. Our findings—hosted on the ASAP Connections website—provide a replicable model, though the stories told within these pages have a focus in Western North Carolina, specifically in the counties of Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood, Madison, and Transylvania.
Local Food System Development
Local food systems work has become a prominent community development strategy, with government agencies, universities, and business associations endeavoring to understand how they too can benefit from local farmers feeding local residents. All over the country, investments of time and resources are transforming the way people think about food and where it comes from. Too often though, efforts to localize the food system only focus on the geographic and technological aspects of moving food. While the supply-side logistics and infrastructure of developing local food systems are important, without an engaged and supportive community investments in infrastructure often fail to live up to their promise.
Focus on Community
Food system development, to be successful and sustainable and truly systemic, needs to focus first on moving people, not food. When the community is supportive—when people change in attitudes and behavior—the policy changes and infrastructure investment will follow. For a local food system to bloom, there are three conditions that indicate meaningful and sustainable changes:
- An engaged community that is familiar with and participates in the local food and farm culture of the region in deliberate and meaningful ways, making informed decisions supportive of the health of themselves, the environment, and the food system;
- A diversity of independent local food businesses and farms; and an equitable and fair food system that contributes to sustainable livelihoods by ensuring workers in the system receive fair compensation, and that all residents can easily acquire the food they need to live healthy, productive lives; and
- An engaged community that is familiar with and participates in the local food and farm culture of the region in deliberate and meaningful ways, making informed decisions supportive of the health of themselves, the environment, and the food system.
The project's highlighted themes reflect these three concepts, how they come to be, and detail why they are the cornerstone indicators of successful local food system development.
As a part of this project, NEMAC created an online map viewer for Land of Sky Regional Council. The Map Viewer allows users to visualize and interact the five-county region, featuring layers relating to the built, economic, human, and natural environments. All of the data and information explored in the Food System Asset Mapping Project was included in this new Map Viewer.
NEMAC worked collaboratively with staff at Land of Sky Regional Council and ASAP to determine appropriate metrics, collect the necessary data, and craft the narratives. In addition to the Land of Sky Map Viewer, NEMAC also developed and created visualizations to help illustrate the discussion.