Extension office honors county

September 8, 2013

Supporting local foods is intricately more involved than just visiting your local farmers market. North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, in collaboration with a Public Health and Community Transformation Grant will host a webinar conducted by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems entitled “Local Foods and Local Government: What You Need to Know.”

It will be presented Wednesday at the O. P. Owens Agriculture Center, N.C. 72 West in Lumberton, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with a short discussion following. Please consider attending to understand what your role in the local foods movement may be.

Promoting local foods has become a strategy for local governments and citizen groups seeking to revitalize the economic and social health of their communities. A local or community-based food system integrates food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management to maximize the environmental, social and economic health of a community. For our purpose, we can define local as food that is grown, raised or caught and then consumed within North Carolina.

About 75 percent of American consumers favor food grown in the United States over food that is imported and prefer to obtain their food from local sources. One national study shows the reasons that people buy local foods include: freshness (82 percent), support for the local economy (75 percent), and knowing the farmer or source of the food (58 percent). Many factors influence the potential success of local farm and food enterprises, including adequate numbers of distribution and processing facilities, retail outlets including farmers markets, and consumers who value local food.

The American Farmland Trust stated that the United States does not produce enough fresh fruits and vegetables to meet the minimum daily requirement set by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2005. An estimated 13 million more acres of farmland would be needed to meet those requirements. In North Carolina, agriculture remains a major economic sector, contributing $70 billion to the state’s economy. North Carolina ranks as the eighth largest agricultural state in the United States. Farmland preservation is vitally important for maintaining the appropriate land on which to grow food. North Carolina ranks as one of the states with the greatest loss of farms and farmland, with 1,400 farms and 600,000 acres lost to development between 2002 and 2007. This loss of farmland represents a loss of cultural history as well as economic opportunity in rural and urban areas. Counties and municipalities can contribute to protecting the future of working lands in agriculture and forestry by developing long-term plans that use tools to address community food issues and needs.

Elected officials in county and city governments rely on community input and comprehensive land-use plans to make decisions regulating development and use of public and private lands. Agriculture should be included, because it is a key contributor to the local economy and community health and because farmland, forestland, and horticultural lands can provide many benefits to a community, including open space and wildlife habitat.

Many communities across the country are including sustainable, local foods in their region’s long-term plans. The impetus for food system planning often begins with municipal, county, regional, or state food policy councils. Food policy councils bring diverse voices from government and community together to support local foods systems. These councils often serve as government advisory groups, making recommendations on ways to strengthen local food systems.

Contact Mack Johnson at 910-671-3276, or email by Tuesday to ensure room accommodations. Source: A Community and Local Government Guide to Developing Local Food Systems in North Carolina.