About us, our client, and our project

What are we doing?  A short abstract

We are Kimberly Hill and Harry Zhang, two second-year graduate students at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

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We were prompted by our client Resourceful Communities, a program of the non-profit organization the Conservation Fund, to investigate ways to better connect low-resource producers and low-income consumers of fresh produce in 31 low-income counties in Northeastern North Carolina.  We decided to conduct three separate analyses: a statistical analysis based on USDA data, a qualitative analysis based in part on the community food assessment tools developed by USDA Economic Resource Service and refined by the Virginia Cooperative Extension, and a spatial analysis to develop a new index tool for food deserts using ArcGIS.  To narrow our research, we focused the qualitative and spatial analyses on two low-income counties: Beaufort County and Washington County.  Based on our analyses, we have attempted to better characterize both rural food deserts and barriers producers and consumers face to produce and access healthy food.

We have identified cultural, economic, and structural barriers to development of the local food economy in Eastern North Carolina.  Both Washington and Beaufort Counties exhibit a high level of stratification based on economic and demographic characteristics.  The statistical analysis revealed that persistent poverty counties and counties experiencing population loss between 2000 and 2010 were more likely to have a higher percentage of the population with little to no access to grocery stores.  Race was also a factor, particularly within North Carolina where minorities are more vulnerable to food insecurity.  However, race was not as strong a factor when taking the coastal plain of the East Coast into consideration.  Nearly all rural counties on the East Coast experienced a decrease in the number of retail grocery stores between 2007 and 2009, thus increasing the number of people experiencing low access to these stores. The qualitative analysis worked with community stakeholders, local food producers, consumers, and grocery retailers to identify barriers.  Two-thirds of consumers from the survey had problems stretching their food budget, and identified a weekly food box at low or no-cost as the best intervention.  Retail grocery stores already can and do buy local food, something not reflected in previous data.  However, they buy locally according to the season and only when the price is right.  Community stakeholders and producers identified the decrease in the number of small farms, increasing bureaucracy, the high cost of entry, and historical divisions between ethnic and socioeconomic groups as the major barriers to connecting low-resource producers and low-income consumers.  The spatial analysis developed an index of non-geographic barriers to define a food desert index score based on cultural/information, vulnerability, and economic variables.  A spatial analysis of geographic variables influenced by the results of the grocery retail survey was also developed.