Local food sales are surging in Western North Carolina, and agriculture is alive and well.
Direct farmer-to-consumer food sales in the region increased nearly 70 percent between 2007 and 2012, growing from just under $5 million to more than $8 million, according to the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s analysis of the recently released 2012 Census of Agriculture.
Direct sales include growers selling directly to customers through farmers’ markets, co-ops or produce stands, and directly to restaurants or value-added food producers.
Statewide, however, North Carolina saw only a slight increase in direct sales; taking away data from the 23 westernmost counties results in a net decrease for the state. Per capita, WNC customers buy about three times as much food directly from farmers as do their counterparts in the rest of the state.
Accompanying this trend is a local reversal of a nationwide loss in farm acres. Between 2007 and 2012, Western North Carolina added more than 10,000 acres of farmland while the rest of the state lost acreage.
“The 2012 Census of Agriculture verifies what we see every day in Western North Carolina — the local food movement is growing,” said Charlie Jackson, ASAP’s Executive Director. “We just never imagined it would be this dramatic.”
According to ASAP, consumers spent over $170 million on local farm products in 2013, a 42 percent increase from the previous year.
ASAP’s own data shows that local farms and locally grown food are defining features of life for the people who live in the region. In every category of local food sales there have been large increases. More restaurants, universities, hospitals and public schools are embracing local food as well.
“Local food is more than just a trend, it is now a movement,” said Jackson.
www.asapconnections.org/local-food-research-center or www.appalachiangrown.org.