Seven billion dollars. That’s the figure that local food sales are predicted to reach nationally in 2012 according to a report released last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ASAP estimates that Western North Carolina consumers alone purchased $62 million of local food in 2010, a fourfold increase since the Asheville-based nonprofit’s Appalachian Grown™ certification and branding program began in 2007. The organization’s recent consumer survey explains the increase: understanding that local food benefits local communities.
“We are way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to supporting local farms,” says Charlie Jackson, ASAP’s executive director. ASAP’s survey, conducted this spring in the greater-Asheville area (Buncombe, Madison, and Henderson counties) and the state’s six westernmost counties found that a majority (55%) of respondents reported spending over onetenth of their food budget on locally grown products. More than 80% of respondents say they choose local food because the purchases help support local farms and contribute to the local economy.
In addition to farms, businesses benefiting from the increase include grocery stores and eateries in the region’s vibrant and growing independent restaurant scene. Threequarters of survey respondents (77%) deemed local food a somewhat or very important consideration in choosing a grocery store, and roughly 6 in 10 (64%) viewed it as somewhat or very important when choosing a restaurant. Over 55% mentioned Ingles as their grocery store of choice for locally grown food.
How do those surveyed define “local?” Almost 40% feel food is local if grown in Western North Carolina. Roughly one-quarter consider food local if it’s grown in their county, and 19% define local as within 100 miles of their home.
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP)
ASAP’s mission is to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food. To learn more about ASAP’s work in the region, visit asapconnections.org, or call (828) 236-1282.