For more information on the statistical analysis “Identifying Demographic Variables that Affect Food Access,” click here.
For more information on the qualitative analysis, “Determining barriers using interview and survey data,” click here.
For more information on the spatial analysis, “Developing a food desert index using spatial analysis,” click here.
Following is a flowchart describing the barriers identified via survey and structured interviews for producers, consumers, and retailers. Facilitators encouraging local food production and consumption are also identified when appropriate. Both the statistical analysis and spatial analysis helped to better define individual and structural barriers consumers face.
Producers must consider several factors when they decide to grow food.
- How much risk are they willing to take on? The initial cost to sow, maintain, harvest, and sell food crops is very high, and there are no guaranteed buyers. Pests can destroy crops, and consumers and wholesalers can refuse crops based on quality. On the other hand, row crops are generally covered by US government-backed insurance programs and subsidies. Some farmers work under contract – for instance growing tobacco – and have a guaranteed price for their crop, regardless of its appearance (conversation with Washington County-based interviewee).
- Labor in Eastern North Carolina is limited. Interviewees in both Washington and Beaufort counties identified labor shortages as a major issue stopping farmers from growing food crops. One interviewee in Beaufort County noted a past program paid local people to work on farms, but most participants quit after a week or two due to the low pay and physically difficult nature of the work.
- Interventions take time and dedicated effort. Insurance for food crops is available, but is often not worth the cost and is not covered under the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC). State and national Congressmembers can advocate for dedicated funds to local Farm Service Agencies (FSA) to encourage growth of the local food movement. However, an advocacy movement is required. Developing a viable workforce requires a well-networked community. For instance, the Beaufort County Developmental Center is training developmentally disabled to grow and harvest food. They may someday work for local producers (BCDC 2014).
Direct-to-consumer sales methods offer producers low-cost ways to access markets. However, low-income consumers may not be able to access these markets.
- Roadside stands are the lowest cost options for producers. They do not require a vendor fee, they do not require the producer to travel, and they require minimal labor. However, in most states including North Carolina, these stands are required to have a business license, collect sales tax, and have appropriate liability insurance (Marks 2014). Due to their remote locations, consumers may not be able to access these stands. Due to the costs associating with WIC and SNAP/EBT, small vendors usually do not accept benefit cards, meaning low-income consumers cannot use their benefits.
- Well-organized farmer’s markets are the best option for low-income consumers. Notably, low-income women in Greenville, NC were willing to travel farther to access the farmer’s market. However, that market accepts SNAP/EBT. Neither of the two farmer’s markets in the study area accepts SNAP/EBT. Washington County has not had a functional farmer’s market since 2009. Limited hours and limited access to transportation affect the ability of consumers to shop at farmer’s markets. Producers may have to pay a vendor’s fee and must meet food safety standards. Additionally, while one interviewee noted farmer’s markets are a great venue for beginning farmers, the return on investment (ROI) for producers is not guaranteed. One community stakeholder involved in managing a farmer’s market noted that some vendors could not afford the transportation costs based on the money they made at the market. However, incentives similar to Michigan’s Double UP Food Bucks program (doubling the value of EBT funds used at farmer’s markets) provide systemic incentives for low-income consumers to buy directly from low-resource producers (Baker 2012). Similar programs have been enacted in 25 states around the country (Severson 2013).
- CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) programs provide the best mix, allowing producers to have investors to manage risks and consumers to have a guaranteed source of fresh produce for the growing season. While producers must have a business license and practice basic food safety protocols (all information which can be gained from the local extension office), the cost of a CSA is manageable. However, few if any farms in North Carolina accept WIC and SNAP/EBT benefits, and consumers must arrange to pick up their CSA share once a week or every other week during the growing season. Notably, some farms with CSA programs subsidize the CSA cost for low-income residents by having a larger number of full-cost shares (University of Minnesota 2012). Other programs, such as the Chapel Hill-based Farmer Foodshare, encourage donations from both producers and consumers at local farmer’s markets. They then distribute to food pantries and low-income people.
While not actively addressed during the survey or interview process, institutional purchasing is another method to connect small-scale producers with low-income consumers, particularly in schools, public institutions such as hospitals and detention facilities, and private institutions such as assisted living centers.
- Beaufort County is already actively pursuing a farm-to-school program. Thus far, only two local farmers have participated. Each has arranged for GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification for one crop. The cost of the certification (around $97 an hour for a specialist to observe the harvesting process according to one source) is supported by money from Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the Beaufort County School District (interview). It connects local producers with low-income schoolchildren dependent on school breakfast and lunch programs. On the other hand, while it provides a reliable market, the school district must actively pursue a farm-to-school program before producers can participate. Additionally, a school district must be equipped with full kitchens and trained staff; most new schools do not have full kitchens due to the insurance risks involved. Washington County does not have a similar program.
- Public institutions are heavily regulated and may have shifting demand. Public institutions such as hospitals, correctional facilities, and military bases are subject to both state and federal regulations. They are also budget-constrained. However, unless they have an exclusive purchasing agreement with an outside wholesaler (such as the North Carolina Correctional System), public institutions are free to develop purchasing agreements with farmers for produce. However, health and safety concerns are prominent for public institutions such as hospitals, and they may require a certification standard (such as GAP) to allay fears (Department of City and Regional Planning-UNC, 2008). Also, there is no guarantee producers are actually reaching low-income consumers.
- Private institutions are more flexible than public institutions, though they have similar health and safety concerns. They may also require some kind of certification depending on the organization. Additionally, there is no guarantee producers are actually reaching low-income consumers. However, producers could approach private institutions to subsidize other parts of their business that do reach low-income consumers, such as farmer’s markets and donations to food banks.
Farmers can and already do sell to local retailers in both Washington and Beaufort County. Local farmers also sell to restaurants in Beaufort County.
- The biggest issue is meeting demand. According to survey data, retailers like to buy local, but appear to do so seasonally and haphazardly. As one interviewee noted, “the market is a huge challenge.” If local producers cannot meet the quality and price standards expected by the retailer, they cannot sell their crops. Though only one retailer noted that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture could test their fruit and vegetables at any time due to public health concerns, retailers do not appear to impose many, if any, regulatory requirements on producers.
- It is an indirect method of reaching low-income consumers, but it may be more effective. Grocery stores are more centrally located, have longer hours of operation, and usually accept WIC and SNAP/EBT. Purchasing agreements with restaurants may allow producers to supplement their income from farmer’s markets, CSAs, and the like.
- Producers may be able to expand to the “corner store” market. One interviewee noted the effectiveness of the “Healthy Corner Store Initiative” in Pitt County to encourage discount stores, convenience stores, and gas stations to carry limited fresh produce (Pitt County 2012).