Local food’s economic impacts are coming into focus as the sector expands. New farmers are boosting commerce in old towns, for example, and new people are visiting or moving to places where local food is on the menu.
And local leaders want more.
Last year, for example, all 16 regional councils of government in North Carolina listed local food network-building as a top action item in a joint five-year strategy delivered to the state’s department of commerce. Local food network development also tops the list in strategic planning at the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a 12-state rural development network that includes North Carolina’s Department of Commerce.
Olivia Collier is the ARC program manager for the state of North Carolina. She says the missing link is the technical assistance and infrastructure that budding local food entrepreneurs need to get to market, and to grow.
“A lot of people are starting to focus on that challenge, and the real opportunity in it,” she says. “That can have a big impact.”
Everything from cold storage to high-speed Internet allows new enterprises to collaborate and scale, says Rebecca Dunning.
She heads up a program focused on moving local food into mainstream markets called NC Growing Together. It’s part of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a partnership between North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Dunning says local governments can play a big role in “mainstreaming” regional food business development.
“Farms are really small and medium-sized businesses that can play a dynamic role in the local economy,” explains Dunning.
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