Conclusion

The barriers residents in Beaufort and Washington Counties face in accessing or marketing local produce are similar to barriers faced in other rural areas of the country.  However, Eastern North Carolina has an agricultural tradition and climate and soil conditions favorable to fruit and vegetable production, given the correct incentives.   According to the statistical analysis, the entire Southeastern Coastal Plain is affected by decreases in the number of grocery stores per 1,000 people, the ethnic composition of the region, persistent poverty, and population loss. According to the Center for Rural Affairs, nearly one in five rural grocery stores has gone out of business since 2006 in the Midwest, and fewer people are employed in the grocery sector (Bailey 2010).  The situation is undoubtedly very similar for North Carolina, though no academic data has been collected.  Rural consumers are more likely to travel further to reach farmer’s markets, according to a study conducted by Eastern North Carolina University in Greenville (Jillcott-Pitts et al. 2013).  However, only two farmer’s markets are present in the study area – both are struggling, both are located in Beaufort County, and neither of them has the resources to accept SNAP/EBT.  Out of 680 respondents for the consumer survey, only nine noted they shopped primarily at a farmer’s market.  Retailers already do buy and market local produce.  Some buy directly from farmers, while others buy local produce through wholesalers such as Greenville Produce.  While the retailer survey was subject to bias, it does indicate openness on the part of most grocery stores to work with local producers.  Producers and community stakeholders note that food does not make a profit for the small-scale producer.  In fact, since the Tobacco buyout of 2004 (Department of City and Regional Planning – UNC 2008) when tobacco was de-regulated by the US government, Eastern North Carolina lost several thousand farms. Few new farmers have started in the area and very few of these are willing or able to grow food.  As noted by the Washington County Extension Office, the Washington County Farmer’s Market fell apart after 2009 when the few remaining producers passed away.  Thus, farm succession and incorporating more people with fewer resources into farming in Eastern North Carolina is a huge issue.