This week we’ve been talking with Jennifer Curtis, Project Director with NC Choices a part of The Center for Environmental Farming Systems Initiative. The center is taking the local food movement to another level by talking with major players in food distribution, as well as large-scale purchasers such as schools and hospitals, encouraging them to buy as much as 10% of their food locally, which in turn will trickle down to rural communities and the producer.
NC Choices is working to transition producers by working with other aspects of the economy as well:
“That’s where we’re looking at…”how can we build this economy” not just the farms but the infrastructure in between, the transportation businesses, the distribution businesses, that’s what the whole economy really runs around, and over the last 50 years our food system has really become very global, so now we’re looking at how do we bring that back home, and how do we bring back some of those businesses that will support the local farmer.”
This initiative has spawned the 10% Campaign, launched the first week of August. Curtis says they’ve seen some successes early on:
“Well, it’s been tremendous these first couple of weeks since we’ve launched the 10% Campaign, particularly we’re excited about the institutional partners, and I think it’s just going to take time to develop more individuals to learn about it and how they can take part in it. But, ultimately we hope to show tremendous amount of interest in local food, and think it’s going to be a great success.”
Curtis says they’re seeing some direct correlations to overall health:
“One of the most exciting thing we saw this past year in the Farm to Fork Initiative was the number of health professionals that were interested in local food. Basically, in North Carolina there are a lot of people that get sick to chronic diseases, heart disease, cancer, these diseases are related to diet. And so, when you look about purchasing supporting local foods you’re looking at eating fresh, nutritious wholesome foods. And if you do a little bit more cooking, that’s a good thing. So, yes, we see a direct connection between supporting local foods and supporting our overall health.”
But, health concerns are not what have initially driven consumers to farmers’ markets…. it’s tomatoes tasting like tomatoes and not the can or freezer:
“Yeah, I think that’s the major reasons people go to farmers’ markets is the quality is just outstanding. Tomatoes taste like you grew up eating them, that’s why we see so many people growing their own food now too, the downturn in the economy we have a lot more urban garden, community gardens, and people taking a stab at producing their own tasty tomato. So, absolutely, taste is a big driver and freshness and quality is what local’s all about.”
Curtis closed with these thoughts:
"Folks may not have heard of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, it’s a collaboration between NC State University, NC A&T University, and the Department of Agriculture, and we’ve done research for the last 15 years on how to produce foods sustainably, and that means profitably, environmentally sound, and socially responsible. So, we’ve been working on that for a number of years and we’re excited to really be making the connection with individuals and institutions around local food in North Carolina.”
Rhonda Garrison and Jennifer Curtis met at the Carrboro Farmers' Market to discuss NC Choices and the 10% Campaign... Read "Farm to Fork" to learn more about NC Sustainable Farming initiative...