“CARTERET LOCAL FOOD NETWORK: WHERE WE STAND” by Jean Palmer-Moloney

Introduction

The Carteret Local Food Network (CLFN) was formed in 2008 under the 501(c)(3) organizational umbrella of Carteret County Crossroads for the purpose of promoting a vibrant and sustainable local food economy in Carteret County, NC.  In February 2016, CLFN became an independent, nonprofit organization incorporated in the State of North Carolina.  As part of this transition CLFN has taken the opportunity to revisit its original mission and vision and to make adjustments to better serve the dynamic community of Carteret County.

In the next 1-3 years, CLFN intends to develop programs that will focus on expanding each component of the existing local food system: increasing production (i.e., more local farms and market gardens, more diverse offerings), increasing marketing and distribution opportunities for local producers (e.g., farmers’ markets, farm-to-school, and farm-to-chef initiatives), and increasing consumer demand for local foods.  Before taking action to build and implement new programs, however, CLFN sees the need to establish a baseline for measuring progress.

    Sample Metrics:     Is the number of people buying “local food” increasing?     Is the number of farmers raising “local food” increasing?     Is the number of produce stands selling “local food” increasing?

To help the organization with this challenge, CLFN contracted Dr. Laura Jean Palmer-Moloney, Senior Consultant of VTT - Visual Teaching Technologies, LLC.  Dr. Palmer-Moloney began by doing a geographic assessment of the human and physical aspects of Carteret County.  She worked with the CLFN Board to develop interview and survey questions and then conducted interviews and surveys between 15 March and 10 July 2016. Carteret County Background According to information provided by US Census (2015) and the League of Women Voters (03 March 2016): o    Total population estimate as of 01 July 2015 is 68,879 o    89.7% of population is White o    24.2% of population (percent of persons age 25+ 2010-1014) hold Bachelor’s degree or higher  o    Since 1980 census, largest segment of growth is 55+ o    #1 spending characteristic of this age group (55+) is Hospitality and Culinary o    National Restaurant Association Statistics show 69% of consumers say that they are more likely to visit a locally owned and flavored restaurant.

Key Geographic Assessment take-away: Most of the population of Carteret County lies along US70 [from west of the intersection of Hwy 101/US70 in Beaufort, toward Morehead City, Newport] and State Hwy 24 [from Morehead City to Cedar Point at the Carteret/Onslow County lines].  Private ownership is restricted by the percentage of county’s total area that is public land and by the percentage of total area is water.  Much of the area that is not water is very low-lying and subject to flooding.

Executive Summary – Interviews/Surveys (N.B.: Contact the CLFN to receive a .pdf of the full report “Carteret Local Food Network: Establishing a Baseline” (11 May 2016) and to request copies of questions used for interviews and surveys as well as results of surveys.) Interviews with Farmers and Farm/Produce Stand Owners Between 15 March and 07 May 2016, sixteen Carteret County farmers and farm/produce stand owners received a copy of the questionnaire “What constitutes a LOCAL FOOD NETWORK?” Interviews were conducted with ten.  What was learned from interviews?   1)    There are many different interpretations of Local, Food, Network, Sustainability, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  To some, selling” local can mean bringing in produce from elsewhere (such as the NC Piedmont) and selling it in Carteret County.  All noted that truck crops/vegetable produce was “food.” Some noted the seasonal aspects of “real” food.  Some included produce as well as seafood and poultry/pork. Sustainability varied from “doing whatever it takes to help the farm make it!” to “practicing responsible growing with minimal chemicals.”  Generally, CSA options were NOT used because farmers felt that they don’t want to fail to provide what was promised, and farming is unpredictable. 2)    Local farmers believe that they cannot afford to take land out of production to get USDA Organic certification.  They also believe harvested produce would not be eaten if it didn’t “look” perfect, and very often organic vegetables and fruit do not look perfect. 3)    The farmers and farm/produce stand owners already consider themselves in an unofficial, functional support network. Network was important because farmers depend on and help one another based on weather, harvest success, etc.   4)    The majority are uncertain about the goals and mission of CLFN and could not say what CLFN has done from them in the past 5-7 years. 5)    All respondents would be in favor of CLFN assistance with (a) Learning Opportunities (for themselves and for their customers) and (b) Advertising and Social Media exposure What can CLFN do to keep farmers farming in Carteret County over the next 15 years?      Work with Farmers:                      Education (news and policy updates; social media and traditional marketing strategies; climate change adaptation and mitigation assistance (rising water table, extreme storms, unpredictable temperature and precipitation, etc.) and Recruitment & Retention (finding next generation of farmers; offering internship opportunities; factoring in farmland vs development economic realities)

    Work with Customers:     Expanded Outreach (education and learning—in person and on internet; traditional and non-traditional education; Do It Yourself gardening; cooking) and Expanded Opportunities (work with real estate companies and rental agencies (reach potential home-buyers and tourists), restaurants (farm/water to table offerings), and health care services (gardening and mental health)). Public Survey Survey questions developed using internet-based survey support (Survey Monkey).   CLFN Board members circulated the link to the survey instrument, and 78 responses were received. Data analysis results showed that there is interest in supporting “local”: 63% respondents consider themselves part of a local food network (as consumers); 91% shop at farms and/or produce stands, and 86% shop at area grocery stores to support Carteret County farmers.  Responses also showed that “local” varied, but the majority considered “local” to be Carteret County and surrounding counties (40%) or, more generally, eastern NC (36%). As CLFN explores if/how to help farms participate in community supported agriculture (CSA), it’s important to note that 45%of the respondents indicated that they do NOT participate in CSAs and 28% indicated that they didn’t know what it means to be part of community supported agriculture. With regard to CLFN and the NC Extension service’s Carteret Local Food Council—66% said they had heard of CLFN prior to the survey; 77% said they’d not heard of CLFC.   Respondents showed that they valued opportunities to buy locally sourced food.

Way Forward for CLFN Having clear and concise goals will help famers, farm/produce stand owners, and the public better understand the purpose of CLFN.   Public and farmers/produce stand owners were confused about how to be a part of CLFN.  Many wanted to know how to “be a member” or “how to join.” The majority of those interviewed and those who responded to the survey want to engage with CLFN.   All indicated that CLFN could make a big impact by “educating” folks.  (This may be the most fertile area for near-term future programs.)

 

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